Bahrain's big day

Gulf Air, Bahrain’s Civil Aviation Authority and Bahrain Airport Services are all preparing for the flood of passengers that will come through the airport on the way to watch the first Bahrain Grand Prix.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  March 1, 2004

I|~|bhgp_m.jpg|~||~|Next month sees the first ever Grand Prix in the Middle East, when Bahrain plays host to Formula 1’s finest drivers. The event will thrust the island kingdom into the international limelight, and it will present a significant challenge to Bahrain International Airport and Gulf Air, the sponsors of the race, which will have to handle thousands of extra passengers over the four days of practise, qualifying and the race itself. Planning for handling the flood of passengers attending the race, which takes place onthe 5th of April, began in September of last year. It is being led by Gulf Air, the Bahraini Civil Aviation Authority and the airport’s handling agent, Bahrain Airport Services (BAS), which are assessing all areas of operation to ensure a smooth flow of passengers through the airport. “Everyone working on the Grand Prix realises the importance of it, not just for Gulf Air but for Bahrain as a whole, and for putting Bahrain on the map as an attractive location for all sporting events,” says Richard Garrett, Gulf Air’s Grand Prix project manager, who has worked full time on preparing for the race since January. The major challenge that the airport will face is the sheer number of people flying in to watch the race. Gulf Air alone will be laying on five to seven extra flights a day in addition to its regular 32-37 daily services, along with a number of charter flights, which will all add up to at least 2000 extra GF passengers. Other carriers will also be boosting their services to Bahrain as well, so it is clear that the airport has the potential to be overwhelmed with traffic. To ensure that this does not happen, Bahrain has drawn up extensive plans to ease the flow of passengers through the airport. Drawing on his experience with Ryanair, which would handle 15-18 000 passengers a day through London Stansted, Garrett highlights two main issues that need to be addressed to guarantee that there are no logjams in the passenger flow. “The first thing is to look at how the passenger arrives at the airport,” he explains. “There is nothing worse than having passengers presented to you en masse in great waves. It’s far better to have the passengers arriving in well-presented packages, in smaller amounts that you can deal with in an orderly fashion.” “When you are dealing with large numbers of passengers moving through an airport you also have to look at the chokepoints,” he adds. “You have to minimise them and make sure that the flow through these chokepoints is as efficient as possible and causes the minimum amount of hassle during the passengers’ journeys through the airport.” To break up passenger movements through the airport, the organisers have taken a number of steps to spread out racegoers’ arrivals and departures from Bahrain. For instance, Gulf Air’s package holidays for the race are of varying lengths so that not all the passengers will come and go through the airport at the same time. Similarly, after the race, evening entertainment is being laid on at the track to try and keep some of the crowd at the circuit rather than having everyone leave at once. “The race circuit is laying on evening entertainment, which will be good for those attending the Grand Prix, but it will also be good for those of us at the airport,” says Garrett. “We are certainly going to have a large tidal wave of passengers coming towards us after the event, but it [the entertainment] should mean that the arrival of departing passengers is staggered to some extent.” At the airport, the authorities have identified a number of potential chokepoints that are being eased through pre-emptive action. For instance, outside the airport, the pick-up and drop-off zone has been re-designed to make more effective use of the space available. Instead of having one lane for all traffic, two lanes have been created which are divided between officials, taxis and coaches in the inside lane and private cars in the outer lane. Also, the entrance and exit to the car park in front of the airport has been shifted away from the drop-off zone and instead positioned so that it leads straight onto the main road. Both these changes, which will remain in place after the race, will greatly ease traffic flow in front of the main terminal.||**||II|~||~||~|The movement of passengers between the circuit and the airport will also be closely monitored to ensure that no logjams develop. Bahrain Racing Circuit (BRC), which is organising the race, is playing a key role in managing the surface transport and it has drawn up a timetable for coach departures that is closely aligned with the airport’s flight schedule. Also, to ensure that there are no traffic jams after the race, the police will enforce priority bus lanes between the circuit and airport. “Every bus moving between the track and the airport will also be in radio communication with operations control both at the track and here at the airport, so at any one moment we will know which vehicles are travelling towards us and what the problems on the road are,” adds Garrett. Inside the airport, the CAA will divide up the flow of passengers by operating three mini-terminals that will deal with separate groups of passengers. The mini-terminals will be self-contained units, each of which will have their own check-in desks, customs, immigration desks and security checkpoints. The smallest mini-terminal will be the Bexair VIP terminal, which will handle private jet and VIP passengers. Bexair is expecting 60-70 planes over the four days of the race, with up to 60 passengers an hour. To ensure that this large number doesn’t impact its service levels, the company will have extra staff over the race period, including customer service agents and mechanics, and it is also aiming to provide helicopter transfers between the airport and the circuit. The second mini-terminal will be the airport’s new coaching facility, which will handle charter and package holiday passengers both when they arrive and depart. These passengers will get off the plane, go through the terminal and then get straight onto a coach, so there will be no need for them to go into the main terminal building. To ensure that the coaching facility can hold all the charter passengers, it will be enlarged for the duration of the Grand Prix period through the construction of a fixed tent that will be able to hold 1800 people. “It will be kitted out as a departures lounge, but if the flow of the passengers works as we expect it to, we won’t need to bulk out and put 1800 passengers in there,” notes Garrett. The final mini-terminal will be the main terminal building, which will handle passengers flying in on regular services to Bahrain. This group will include a number of racegoers, but there will also be transit passengers passing through the airport and other people flying into Bahrain who are nothing to do with the Grand Prix. “We have to remember that they [non-Grand Prix passengers] are coming through as well, and we must not minimise the service we give them,” notes Garrett. As such, Gulf Air won’t cancel any timetabled flights during the race period nor is it making any special effort to divert transit passengers to its Muscat or Abu Dhabi hubs instead of Bahrain. The only major change it has made to its regular service is to suspend its policy of giving hotel accommodation to overnighting transit passengers for the 10 days leading up to the race. “We haven’t changed our normal schedule to try and free up facilities here [in Bahrain],” says Garrett. “However, we have stopped [accommodating transit passengers] over the 10 day period of the Grand Prix, as we don’t want the extra handling complications at the airport and there’s not the extra hotel capacity to put them in,” he adds. “That’s something we have taken out of the equation to make life easier.”||**||III|~||~||~|The movement of passengers between the circuit and the airport will also be closely monitored to ensure that no logjams develop. Bahrain Racing Circuit (BRC), which is organising the race, is playing a key role in managing the surface transport and it has drawn up a timetable for coach departures that is closely aligned with the airport’s flight schedule. Also, to ensure that there are no traffic jams after the race, the police will enforce priority bus lanes between the circuit and airport. “Every bus moving between the track and the airport will also be in radio communication with operations control both at the track and here at the airport, so at any one moment we will know which vehicles are travelling towards us and what the problems on the road are,” adds Garrett. Inside the airport, the CAA will divide up the flow of passengers by operating three mini-terminals that will deal with separate groups of passengers. The mini-terminals will be self-contained units, each of which will have their own check-in desks, customs, immigration desks and security checkpoints. The smallest mini-terminal will be the Bexair VIP terminal, which will handle private jet and VIP passengers. Bexair is expecting 60-70 planes over the four days of the race, with up to 60 passengers an hour. To ensure that this large number doesn’t impact its service levels, the company will have extra staff over the race period, including customer service agents and mechanics, and it is also aiming to provide helicopter transfers between the airport and the circuit. The second mini-terminal will be the airport’s new coaching facility, which will handle charter and package holiday passengers both when they arrive and depart. These passengers will get off the plane, go through the terminal and then get straight onto a coach, so there will be no need for them to go into the main terminal building. To ensure that the coaching facility can hold all the charter passengers, it will be enlarged for the duration of the Grand Prix period through the construction of a fixed tent that will be able to hold 1800 people. “It will be kitted out as a departures lounge, but if the flow of the passengers works as we expect it to, we won’t need to bulk out and put 1800 passengers in there,” notes Garrett. The final mini-terminal will be the main terminal building, which will handle passengers flying in on regular services to Bahrain. This group will include a number of racegoers, but there will also be transit passengers passing through the airport and other people flying into Bahrain who are nothing to do with the Grand Prix. “We have to remember that they [non-Grand Prix passengers] are coming through as well, and we must not minimise the service we give them,” notes Garrett. As such, Gulf Air won’t cancel any timetabled flights during the race period nor is it making any special effort to divert transit passengers to its Muscat or Abu Dhabi hubs instead of Bahrain. The only major change it has made to its regular service is to suspend its policy of giving hotel accommodation to overnighting transit passengers for the 10 days leading up to the race. “We haven’t changed our normal schedule to try and free up facilities here [in Bahrain],” says Garrett. “However, we have stopped [accommodating transit passengers] over the 10 day period of the Grand Prix, as we don’t want the extra handling complications at the airport and there’s not the extra hotel capacity to put them in,” he adds. “That’s something we have taken out of the equation to make life easier.”||**||IV|~||~||~|The airport and Gulf Air have also undertaken a number of steps to ease the flow of passengers through the mini-terminals. The first will begin even before passengers arrive in Bahrain, as daytrippers will be able to check in for their return journeys when they check in for the flight to the island. This ‘return check-in’ is commonly used in Europe on charter flights carrying fans to football matches, for instance, and it has the effect of reducing the check-in queues at the airport after the event. “Passengers will be given their return leg audit card [when they make their inward flight], so they won’t have to queue up when they check in to leave the country,” explains Garrett. Other steps have also been taken to ease the pressure at other potential chokepoints in the airport. For instance, there will be extra immigration desks to ease the flow of passengers coming into Bahrain before the race, and a web site is being launched to let people arrange their visa online. The government is also waiving all visa fees, as well as departure taxes, over the four day Grand Prix period, which will further cut the queues at passport control, as there will be no need to hand over any money. Similarly, at the security checkpoints, the CAA will deploy extra x-ray machines to make sure that there won’t be long queues of people waiting to have their bags scanned. “We don’t want to compromise security in way, so the key thing is to make sure we have the right number of x-ray machines at each location,” notes Garrett. Staffing levels at the airport will also be raised to ensure that there are enough people on hand to help passengers in need of assistance. Gulf Air, for instance, is running an internal scheme to encourage Bahrain-based administration staff to work at the airport during the race period in a ‘meet and greet’ role. This will increase the manpower at the airport, and staff will also benefit from extra pay and experience. “It’s a great opportunity for people who have got potential within Gulf Air to spend a few days in the airport environment for their own personal education,” notes Garrett. “Whatever job you go onto within Gulf Air, to be in the frontline will give you an experience that you can take with you.” To ensure that the number of staff at the airport is sufficient, the airline and BAS have also altered their shift patterns for the duration of the Grand Prix. Many airport staff work from 06:00 to 18:00 with another shift working overnight. However, for the four day race period these shift patterns have been amended because with the race finishing at 16:30, the peak time for passengers arriving at the airport will from 17:30 onwards. “We want to have the right number of staff in prior to people reaching us from the track, so that’s why we have amended our shifts,” explains Garrett. The airline and airport are confident that everything will go according to plan during the Grand Prix, but just in case there are problems contingency plans have also been put in place. For instance, one scenario that has been addressed is what to do if the departure control system (DCS) should collapse under the weight of traffic. If this should happen, the airport will switch to a manual system, and staff are already practising how to use it. However, Garrett notes that the airport, airline and BAS are all undertaking full systems checks leading up to the race to minimise problems on the day. “In the weeks prior to the event we are obviously doing a complete check on all of our equipment... to make sure that it is 100% effective and ready to go,” he says. ||**||

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