Europe’s next gateway?
23 June 2016 • Author(s): Phil Fine
Dubai International Airport has hit the jackpot. A virtual unknown just a few years ago, Dubai has vaulted ahead of London’s Heathrow Airport to become the world’s biggest handler of international flyers. In 2015, for example, Dubai welcomed 69.9 million international passengers – almost a million more than its rival.
But at least one other Mideast country isn’t giving Dubai a free pass. Turkey is now building a replacement to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul that will be the world’s biggest air terminal – one that can process 150 million passengers a year. Nicholas Coleman, Senior Lecturer at London Metropolitan University, recently spoke to journalist Phil Fine exclusively for International Airport Review about how the new airport stacks up against Dubai.
With three independent runways, eight parallel taxiways and about four million square metres of apron space, Istanbul’s new airport will be no piker…
But in taking on Dubai, it will have a fight on its hands. That’s because Dubai’s brand is strong, even stronger when you consider it is the home base for Emirates, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, business travellers worldwide are now very familiar with Emirates and Dubai and that familiarity is critically important. Moreover, Dubai has become a destination in its own right, with great beaches and world-class hotels – attractions that will prove to be even more crucial as leisure travel continues to grow.
In short, Dubai and Emirates have become an unbeatable combination. Not only have both brands become inseparable, but both have become globally recognisable. So, Turkey has a lot of catching up to do. Sure, you can always build a wonderful airport but this won’t matter much if it fails to become a preferred destination. Consumers will always decide if an airport will ultimately work. Travellers have to feel confident that when they board a plane, everything will work out smoothly when they touch down at the other end. This is the reputation that Istanbul’s new airport – indeed, any new airport – has to earn.
So, in capturing the Mideast market, brand strength is key?
It is. Take Heathrow for example – why do we view it as a global airport? Because it’s a globally important brand. It’s also the gateway to London, thanks in no small part to the hundreds of foreign dignitaries it has welcomed over the last 50-plus years. And once your name is known as the premier location for international travel, you offer value that’s worth much more than your mere moniker. Heathrow is also home base for British Airways, the UK’s flagship carrier. So, both brands are able to feed off each other.
In the meantime, Dubai International continues to soar?
Most definitely. By 2020, aviation will pump US$53.1 billion into the UAE’s economy, while accounting for as much as 37% of its gross domestic product. It will also support more than 750,000 jobs. So, it will be hard to duplicate Dubai’s success. Its geographical location is outstanding, its airport management team is outstanding and its cooperation with the government is outstanding. Indeed, in terms of innovation, growth strategies and infrastructure, the UAE has become the top aviation country in the world. And I don’t see anyone else being able to knock it off its perch. In fact, it’s hard to see anyone becoming a serious rival until at least the end of the 21st century.
Phil Fine, journalist
Phil Fine, who’s based in Israel, has over 16 years’ experience as a professional journalist, most recently as editor of Investor’s Digest of Canada in Toronto. Perhaps more important, he’s had a lifelong fascination with airports – particularly now that air travel is exploding across Asia and mega-airports are becoming the norm in cities such as Istanbul, Dubai and Singapore.
Nicholas Coleman, Senior Lecturer, London Metropolitan University
Nicholas Coleman is a Senior Lecturer and leads the Aviation Management course at London Metropolitan University. His early career started in commercial aviation working for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways within their global business management and marketing teams and continued for 15 years. During his career Nicholas was involved in strategic and marketing consultancy for Virgin Atlantic on the strategic challenges of British Airways (1991 – 1994). He also developed new companies including building business plans and gaining finance from investors during the mid-1990s for start-ups in the transport sector. He has worked extensively as an aviation consultant for blue chip aviation companies throughout the world during this period.