Bahrain Airport Services: Feet on the Ground, Eyes in the Skies


Draft of the Interview published in
Endeavour Magazine
, December 2012

About Bahrain Airport Services:

Bahrain Airport Services (BAS) was founded nearly four decades ago to provide fully integrated airport services at Bahrain International Airport (BIA). Supported by about 3000 experienced staff in total, BAS is an ISAGO accredited Airport Service Provider (ASP) which owns and operates five distinct business units: full aircraft and passenger ground handling, cargo terminal services, in-flight catering services, aircraft line maintenance and aircraft engineering training. We spoke about the details with Chief Executive Officer, George Saounatsos after one year at the helm of BAS.

Our Traffic Division handles more than 9 million passengers annually and 35 different airlines, providing a comprehensive range of ground handling services including passenger and ramp handling, dispatch and aircraft load control, baggage handling, flight planning, crew briefing and administration, a number of airport operational functions as well as premium and special services”, George says, “Our Dilmun Lounge for premium passengers has won the prestigious award of “Lounge of the Year - Middle East/Africa Region” for 6 years in a row 

BAS’ Cargo Division handles 280,000 tonnes of freight annually including import, export and trans-shipment. When looking at the scale of work this division is responsible for just one cargo terminal encompasses an area of 19,000 square meters with multi-bay storage racking and a range of special facilities for perishables, valuables, dangerous goods and livestock. Modern/state of the art computing and communication systems are used for managing its multi-faceted operations to ensure optimum efficiency.

Aircraft Engineering Department provides Line maintenance and is an EASA certified Part-145 Maintenance Organization. It handles a total of 8,000 aircraft maintenance movements and 54,000 flight movements annually. The experienced engineering staff is supported by an array of ground equipment to provide high servicing standards to airline customers. Ground Support Equipment  includes push-back tugs, air conditioning units, ground power units, air starters, various high lift devices, etc. forming the most comprehensive fleet of airport GSE in the region.

BAS has also invested in a state of the art BD1 million BAS Aircraft Engineering Training Centre (BAETC), an EASA certified Part-147 Training Organization. BAETC provides basic aircraft engineering training, specialized aircraft type-rating courses, as well as OJT and practical experience utilizing technologically advanced facilities and equipment.
As far as the In-flight Catering Division, George says, “Our modern  in-flight catering infrastructure covers an area of approximately 11,000 square meters and has a maximum production capacity of 35,000 meals daily,” George explains, “An average of 500,000 meals per month are produced to satisfy 125 different menus while a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system is implemented with stringent international hygiene regulations & standards.


Passengers clearly benefit from the highest level of service at BAS but what have some of the hurdles been for the business?

There are some sizeable internal and external issues which raise important challenges to the management of BAS and our long-term strategic planning", George explains. “ One of the main extraneous factors is linked to the efforts of our national carrier to cope with their growing economic challenges through the rationalization of their network and restructuring of their fleet" he continues.Our success is inherently linked to the type and traffic volumes of Gulf Air as our biggest customer. Intelligent and efficient cost control is one of the ways to better prepare for the uncertainties of the future. There are many areas from where we can reduce costs and even reinvest part of these savings back to our people and their training in order to improve the level of service and achieve better value for money for all our airline customers."

On top of that, we also have to take into consideration the competition in the region and be pragmatic. We are within a one-hour radius from three major hubs namely Dubai, Abu-Dhabi and Doha. These airports constitute the home base of three aggressively expanding global airlines with well established international networks and a high momentum. The scale achieved by these 'hub and spoke systems', or in our case 'airline-airport systems', generate by default an extremely competitive environment for our national carrier and consequently for both the airport company and BAS as communicating vessels. Furthermore, BAS is a fully privately owned business entity with no direct or indirect state subsidies and has to earn its living based on its own potential.

On the internal front, the main challenge that BAS appears to be facing is what George refers to as 'corporate fatigue'. BAS has been serving the aviation community for more than 35 years and although it is a well established company in its domain, it is inevitable that an organization of this age and size, with accumulated issues insufficiently addressed in the past would experience signs of corporate fatigue. “Our objective is to transform the DNA of the company, to revitalize BAS and convert it into a modern, competitive and flexible organization with a performance-based and customer-centric culture leading to value added services. To achieve this, a number of organizational changes are underway modifying the structure of our key business units to achieve a more efficient and lean management system”, he explains. “Among other initiatives, an intensive process re-engineering is in progress to re-think the way BAS operates, to streamline our operations and take advantage of synergies to optimize the use of our human capital and GSE resources”, and he adds "we are also bringing in fresh blood with international exposure and experience while at the same time maintaining a high level of Bahrainization for which we are proud to say that has reached 86%, the highest in our sector.

Furthermore, their selection process for all staff has become more robust and demanding to set the ground for cultivating the new corporate culture and depart from habits linked to 'old' mentalities. “We have to break the routine associated with day-to-day operations and be proactive in the way we operate”, is the declaration, “work hard to enhance our credibility and professionalism, give a touch of the real Bahraini hospitality and offer a true smile to our passengers through our front line staff.” George notes that "there is no 'magic wand' to achieve all these and our efforts will require quite some time to pay off. This is about setting solid foundations for BAS for many years to come and it is worth doing it right through methodical planning and systematic work", he continues and adds “the positive aspect is that our staff are excited and embracing the changes ahead."


Speaking about staff, one of the most telling signs of any company is the promotional and training focuses placed on the people employed.

Our staff is the most important asset; solid initial & recurrent training as well as the ongoing development of our people is the first priority in order to generate the breed of future managers and leaders for BAS." "As a service provider it all comes down to the way each individual staff and expert, be it a check-in agent, a dispatcher, a load controller or a loading supervisor, handles the passengers and customer airlines. At the beginning of 2012 a training master-plan was developed and a massive training/refresher training program implemented."

Being determined to invest back to our people part of the achieved margins through improved incentives and rewards, a newly established concrete Performance Appraisal System was developed. Managers are trained on how to conduct fair and impartial staff evaluations against clearly defined goals/objectives towards establishing an equitable culture and a motivating working environment built on our new corporate values of ethos, respect, teamwork, transparency and fairness," George states.
We are also revisiting for a second time within a year the salary & grading scale structure for all staff to simplify it and ensure that the basic salary of lower-waged staff is increased while the allowances are rationalized achieving a fair and substantiated policy for all staff, and especially those on shift, while establishing a new era in the relation between management and employees. For these efforts, BAS was awarded in December 2012 the 'Seal of Excellence' from the Ministry of Labor. Furthermore, high performing 'contract' staff is converted to 'open-ended' status to enhance their motivation and also pass a positive message to all for the recognition of good work and professional reliability.


And what about the customers? What focuses are in place with regards to relationship building and consolidation?

Convincing our airline customers that they get the best value for their money is of primary importance”, George emphasizes, “We all have to 'go the extra mile', to give the best of our mind and heart in order to achieve the highest standards of service and ensure sustainable quality under all circumstances.”
In a small market like Bahrain, reliance is on the establishment of close ties with customers. BAS’ staff need to be there to support the airline teams at all times, listen to their concerns, discuss their daily operational issues and seek the best solutions for them. That is Bahrain Airport Services has made it a policy for all operational managers to spend a considerable time of their working hours outside the four walls of their office and make their presence noticeable in the heart of operations, where all activities take place.
An integral part of our new corporate culture is to perceive the passengers as our guests and we want to offer a congenial traveling experience to them”, George explains. This will enhance the image of Bahrain and its airport and become an additional competitive advantage in the hands of our national carrier and the airport company itself.

With so much already in place to ensure the standards and facilitation of BAS continue at their high level, what could be the new developments for 2013?
For the short term, our priority is to reshape our business model to meet changing market dynamics domestically”, George says. “We are reinventing ourselves, embracing the latest technological advances and operational best practices to meet client expectations and offer competitive services. This includes the acquiring of the new Cargo Handling System, while the implementation of a new Resource Management System is scheduled for early 2013. The latter will optimize the planning and day-to-day allocation of resources and shift patterns for staff as well as reducing fatigue or ‘human factor’ implications."  Furthermore, they developed in house and implemented an integrated Performance Monitoring System (PMS) with more than 600 predefined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for all company divisions for the collection, processing and systematic monitoring of departmental efficiency and quality as well as the monitoring and benchmarking of their operational performance and the service level agreements with our airlines.
For the medium to long term, we are exploring investment opportunities regarding the formation of joint ventures with credible counterparts for building or acquiring business entities”, George continues. “We are exploring possibilities for expanding into new revenue streams. Airport operations and management, premium passenger servicing and lounges, cargo logistics & warehousing, aircraft maintenance & training, aviation security and diversified activities such as industrial and hospital catering are some of the domains we’re examining, not only regionally but also in emerging markets."
On the macro level, and after some difficult months, Bahrain’s economy is poised to grow in 2013, which will give much needed boost to the local travel & aviation sector. Public investment and renewed private sector activity are having positive effect on the country’s fiscal status. The government’s planned stimulus spending package particularly on infrastructure projects, including the airport terminal expansion, would contribute to the economic strengthening. This is in addition to the GCC pledged $10bn aid package over 10 years to support Bahrain economic and social developments, which will give much needed injection to the aviation sector as well.
With a new vision and mission statement and a set of new strategic objectives, BAS is committed to continuous enhancement of service quality, operational efficiency and customer satisfaction while maintaining an uncompromising stance towards the implementation of the highest safety and security standards in the industry. In conclusion, despite such strength and development and the highest standard of results there is still a lot to see from Bahrain Airport Services. As George puts it: "We established ourselves on the right track to do better but we have a long and challenging way ahead of us to ensure consistency in our services and sustainable quality under all operating conditions."

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