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Demonstrating resilience and true spirit of delivering exceptional safety and service

by Mahua Special Editor
David Barker, Divisional Senior Vice President for Airport Operations
David Barker, Divisional Senior Vice President for Airport Operations -Dnata

Congratulations on winning the ‘Ground Handler of the Year’ title for the 7th consecutive time. How is dnata able to keep up and achieve this feat?

Thank you. This award is testament to the dedication and extraordinary efforts of our highly-skilled team.  While the pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for aviation, our team demonstrated resilience and true spirit of delivering exceptional safety and service.  We remained focussed on quality, safety, people and customers.  We adapted to the highly dynamic environment, implemented new protocols, and introduced innovative products and services to meet or exceed our customer expectations.

Heading dnata’s global airport operations across 14 countries is surely a challenging task. How do you manage to keep your cool and deal with the operational challenges?

I am passionate about aviation, our people, and the safety and quality of every aircraft turn.  I enjoy setting challenging goals and then going beyond them. At dnata I work with a team of customer-oriented professionals who share the same passion and are always ready to go the extra mile to provide the best possible services. 

In these unprecedented times, your strategy defines you. We have held firm to our strategy that is based on a solid business model, consistent investments in capability and a strong drive for innovation.  Leaders find ways to navigate in uncharted waters and our teams have proven their ability to deliver consistently high quality and industry-leading solutions, day after day. 

How did the pandemic effect your services and business? How is dnata prepared to tackle the future challenges?

In line with the global industry, our Airport Operations were significantly affected by the impact of the pandemic. Our teams around the world had to rapidly adjust their processes to cope with the new operating environment. This included passenger aircraft being used for cargo-only loads both in the belly and the passenger cabin. At the same time, we adapted quickly to safeguard our workforce with the provision of PPE, training, and revised operating procedures to reflect social distancing.

We pressed ahead with key strategic investment to strengthen the business for future growth and continued to drive efficiencies across our operations.  This included the opening of new, state-of-the-art cargo facilities in Manchester (UK) and Lahore (Pakistan), and additional cargo capacity and infrastructure in Sydney (Australia), Brussels (Belgium) and Toronto (Canada). In addition, we broke ground on the second phase of the dnata City East project at London Heathrow (UK).

We also invested in innovative products and new technology and digitalisation, as well as achieving industry certifications which validate our capabilities and places the business in a competitive position to retain and win new contracts.  Simply put we would not let the covid crisis define us, we were going to define the crisis by investing in the future.

Basing your operations in various countries, you have witnessed differences in the market patterns. What can you say about the Middle East market? How does it differ from the rest?

Over the past decades, dnata’s operations expanded in tandem with the growth of Dubai as an aviation hub.  Before the pandemic, our UAE Airport Operations completed a host of key initiatives aimed at significantly enhancing the efficiency of our processes and infrastructure in ground handling and cargo management. This positions us well to serve Dubai International (DXB), the world’s number one airport for international passenger traffic, and Dubai World Central (DWC).  The one incredibly consistent theme across all of our business is our team members’ passion, resilience and innovate spirit, and the Middle East clearly demonstrates these attributes.

Our teams are currently busy supporting the exhibitors of the Dubai Expo 2020, a mega event that started on 1 October.

What are your thoughts on introducing various tech advancements in dnata`s services? What kind of technological transformation have you introduced in the recent years and post the pandemic outbreak?

We know that excellence means constantly challenging ourselves to do better. We engage and collaborate with all stakeholders in the aviation eco-system and deliberately invest in infrastructure, technologies and products to further improve efficiency, productivity and deliver the highest possible value for our customers.

Our most recent investments includes hi-tech cool dollies in Australia and Singapore, thermal screening in the USA, drone technology in our cargo warehouses, a UV cabin cleaning service in Switzerland, a baggage disinfection station in Singapore, just-in-time freight handling platform in UAE, thermal screening in the USA, as well as the network-wide rollout of a turnaround tool and IATA’s innovative Dangerous Goods AutoCheck (DG Autocheck) solution.

What is dnata’s take on sustainability?

As a leader in the aviation and travel industries, we recognise that environmental responsibility is core to our long-term business success. We are committed to minimising the environmental impact of our operations across all our businesses and activities, including our supply chain. Our environmental policy articulates this positioning for all employees and stakeholders across the company.

Choosing green or hybrid options is a prime consideration in our Ground Support Equipment (GSE) fleet planning. Over the past years, we have replaced a large number of our ramp vehicles, GSE and forklifts with hybrid or electric alternatives, while refurbishing selected GSE where appropriate to extend life-cycles, decrease engine emissions, reduce waste and update them to the latest safety and quality standards.  We completed smooth and safe green turnarounds of our customers’ aircraft at DXB (2019) and JFK (2020).

dnata has recently announced that it joined IATA’s ‘25by2025 initiative.’ What did the company commit to?

We are proud to have become the first global air and travel services provider to sign up to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) 25by2025 initiative that aims to advance gender diversity in the aviation industry.  Joining 62 airlines, we committed to increasing the number of women in senior positions and under-represented roles with a target to reach a minimum representation of 25% or increase current levels by a minimum of 25% by 2025 across all divisions. We will report annually on key diversity metrics.

Let us conclude our conversation with your plans for the expansion of dnata`s services and the bases of operation in the following years?

In the last few weeks and months, and thanks largely to the global vaccination drive we have seen an increasingly clear path to recovery opening up. Whilst the situation remains difficult to predict, we will work hard to recover to our full operating capacity as quickly as possible to support the aviation and travel industries and help the world travel again, reconnecting families, friends and businesses across the world.  We will continue to seek to grow our marhaba lounges, and meet and greet services to offer a seamless travel experience.  We will seek to penetrate markets through acquisition and new greenfield opportunities, continue to invest in cargo warehouse and technology that creates efficiencies or innovative solutions for our customers.    

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