fmME Roundtable: FM to grow in UAE aviation sector

In the first of a two-part series, meet the experts delivering FM services to the UAE’s aviation sector, and how technology investments are conquering contractual challenges to disrupt the industry

Top row (L-R): Samer Hani, Faisal AbdulRahim Al Belooshi, and Alain El Tawil. Bottom row (L-R): Daniela Ina Voicu, Joanna Spruce, and Rukhsana Kausar.
Top row (L-R): Samer Hani, Faisal AbdulRahim Al Belooshi, and Alain El Tawil. Bottom row (L-R): Daniela Ina Voicu, Joanna Spruce, and Rukhsana Kausar.

Aviation sector-specific FM service delivery would benefit from a market-wide revamp of how contracts are designed and implemented, it was reiterated during a roundtable discussion held on the topic with industry leaders last month. Hosted at fmME’s headquarters in Dubai, the roundtable was attended by experts from various walks of the FM sector.

The group also discussed how increased collaboration between clients and FM contractors would benefit the aviation management sector.

The panel featured soft service specialists such as Alain El Tawil, managing partner of high-access cleaning firm Grako, which provides external cleaning at heights for Dubai Airports, and Samer Hani, general manager for Cleanco’s Abu Dhabi operation.

Cleanco was recently awarded a contract by Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) – which operates Abu Dhabi Airport, Al Ain Airport, and Al Bateen airport – to provide cleaning, waste management, landscaping, and pest control services.

FM contractors attending the roundtable included Joanna Spruce, director of business development and marketing at Farnek Services, and Daniela Ina Voicu, representing Klüh Multiservices Germany, of which Berkeley Services is a subsidiary.

Farnek’s clientele in the aviation sector includes Emirates airline and Etihad Airways, while Berkeley’s aviation client list includes Dubai Airports and Dnata. Internationally, Klüh also provides services at airports in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, and Dresden.

They were joined on the panel by Rukhsana Kausar, partner at Liquid of Life – which counts, among other firms, Etihad Airways as a client – and Faisal AbdulRahim Al Belooshi, senior director for FM at Dubai Airport Free Zone’s (DAFZA) customer relations and licensing division.

Grako’s El Tawil kicked off the discussion by explaining the regional aviation sector’s significance: “Three out of the world’s top 10 airlines – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways – are from the Middle East which I think is a fantastic achievement for the region.

“Meanwhile, Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the largest when it comes to international passengers, and it registered a 7.2% increase in passenger numbers in 2016 over 2015.”

Al Belooshi pointed out that while the US’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International is currently the world’s busiest airport – more than 104 million passengers used the facility in 2016, according to a CNN report this March – DXB appears to be on track to take over the top spot within a few years.

The conversation led to the question of how FM companies might contribute to this anticipated growth, with the panel agreeing that client collaboration through a partnership-driven approach might be a step in the right direction.

Farnek’s Spruce explained: “We work with Dubai Airports in the aviation sector, and the partnership element is key to our relationship.

“It is important to understand the airport as a stakeholder, as well as its requirements and growth ambitions, so we work very closely with [the airport team] to consistently innovate and build on our relationship. Typically, an airport is understandably very protective about its brand and its growth.

“The facilities are also constantly changing – for instance, DXB as it looks in April might not look the same six months from now if internal projects and plans, and expansion programmes are implemented.”

Spruce pointed out that the intensity of a typical international airport’s footfall is a significant factor when delivering FM at such facilities, and the need for proactive service provider involvement is amplified in the case of emergencies or sudden changes.

Grako’s El Tawil agreed with the view, adding that the UAE’s major airports – especially DXB – are operational on a 24x7 basis, unlike many of their international counterparts, adding: “These airports are run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the number of passengers that use the facilities is very large – this alone is [an operational] challenge.

“With the kind of work Grako does at the airports, we have to bear in mind that we’re being watched not only by the airport team, but also the millions of passengers that use the facility – more so at a time when social media is so prominent.

“You can’t second guess anything, because the brand is very important. No delays can be allowed because their domino effect would impact numerous other operations at the airport.”

Education sits at the heart of better FM delivery in the aviation sector, all experts agreed.

Klüh’s Voicu explained how a particular mobile technology tracks – through WiFi provision – the nationality of an airport’s passengers, thus allowing operators and FM providers to customise service programmes: “One of the difficulties with such a case is integration. If each team used a platform that all operators have a widespread knowledge of, then I think its benefits [could be accrued] in a couple of years.

“You have to invest in technology because it encourages transparency; so yes, it is worth investing in asset management or control tools, but we need certification for operators to be able to use these systems.

“This is where the role of Middle East Facility Management Association (MEFMA) comes in, I think, in terms of making sure the right technical information is imparted to the FM practitioner actually using the systems, but who are often the last to learn about it,” Voicu added.

DAFZA’s Al Belooshi stated he has observed that regional service provider companies “are not investing much in technology” just yet as compared to, say, his own employer’s investments in technology. For instance, a key initiative implemented by DAFZA is its Innovation Strategy, which was launched in 2015 to pursue smarter operations across the free zone.

In response to AlBelooshi’s observation, Farnek’s Spruce pointed out that tech investments in FM programmes must be viewed as mutual collaborations – while service providers might spend on technology and build a proposal around it, the conversation regarding such a contract’s cost would have to be driven by open-minded clients in the FM sector.

At this point in the conversation, Cleanco’s Hani explained how his firm is using computer-aided FM (CAFM) software for its contract with ADAC.

The company’s supervisors in every location receive a detailed schedule of work, and task completion is logged into the system on a daily basis. These reports are also forwarded for client review.

Voicu pointed out that such an investment would tend to increase contract costs, and not all buyers may be willing to take on the subsequent additional expense. Hani agreed, but reiterated that as a quality control tool, CAFM is beneficial to clients as well: “It opens the door for the customer to see your business, which means any mistakes are visible too and would be reflected in the KPIs,” he added.

Liquid of Life’s Kausar stated that a crucial factor in ensuring successful technology implementation is staff training. She also explained why short-term contracts are – in light of staff education – disadvantageous for both, FM contractors and clients.

“Recruiting the right people for key positions has historically been a challenge for service providers and some employees – procurement managers, for instance – are often found to have been in their role for more than 10 years, which means their mindset may be difficult to change,” she continued.

“I think it’s time for procurement managers and service providers – and all other key decision-makers in the FM industry – to call for more standards and reduce the trend of one-year contracts, especially if you consider the time it takes to prepare a bid and after securing a win, mobilise and train your staff.”

Cleanco’s Hani – and all other experts on the panel – unanimously agreed with Kausar’s view. Hani also pointed out the teething problems associated with technology uptake on a micro level, such as mishandling of smart devices or using the airport’s WiFi connection for non-work purposes.

He added: “An airport is the face of the city – it’s your first impression of wherever you go. All passengers are, based on factors such as education level, for instance, very different, and some might, say, play with an iPad installed for maintenance recording in an airport bathroom.

“This is where staff training [about interacting with customers and passengers] assumes importance.

“I have a CAFM department that started off with one member but comprises seven employees today, because we understand that the technology is a big part of their job now,” Hani added.

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