It’s something every seasoned airline traveller has experienced: The plane has landed and approaches the gate when the pilot asks passengers to stay in their seats because the ground crew isn’t ready to offload.
These delays aren’t just annoying for passengers, they’re also an inefficient “use of surface” and affects airlines and airports, says Moodie Cheikh, CEO of Searidge Technologies, a Canadian company that offers technology solutions for bringing more precision to airport operations around the world.
One of Searidge’s key clients is Dubai International Airport (DXB), a transportation hub that tops the list of the world’s busiest airports by passenger count. As a gateway to a booming region, more and more airlines want to fly into Dubai, but it’s a two-runway airport with no room for building additional runways.
A second airport, which will service the area with six runways, is under construction, but in the meantime, Dubai Airport has to maximize the capacity of its current facilities. “That’s what Searidge does,” says Cheikh. “We have technology that helps to optimize the way traffic is managed on the ground.”
Dubai is a large hub for “heavies” – the biggest airplanes which carry 300 to 500 passengers. Searidge’s technology helps monitor aircraft approach, provides operators with tools for effectively moving aircraft and other vehicles around the surface, and provides concise gate arrival and push back times.
“By optimizing how the airport manages surface, we see whether there’s capacity for more landings,” he says. “Even if we can squeeze in five more landings a day, that’s a tremendous gain for an airport like Dubai.”
Working closely with Dubai Airport for five years, Searidge is considered “a strategic technology partner,” says Cheikh. He believes this boosts the company’s chances to see its technology implemented at the new airport as well.
Searidge in the UAE
Establishing a strong presence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) required time and dedication, Cheikh says. When Searidge started looking for business opportunities in the region, it first identified a local channel. “We were told that to do business in a certain market, we needed local representation. We did a lot of research and found a local supplier/integrator servicing the airport and air traffic control organization.”
In formalizing the partnership with the channel, Cheikh says Searidge made sure there were no prohibitive clauses preventing a potential termination of the agreement. And rather than relying on the channel for finding customers, the company implemented what Cheikh calls a “push-pull strategy.”
“Going directly to potential costumers, we educated them about our technology and capabilities. At the same, we made it clear that the sale would happen through the channel,” he explains.
In 2008, Searidge won a contract with the Abu Dhabi Airport. While the project was delivered successfully, Cheikh recalls encountering a number of challenges, mainly around quality assurances and the skills of local labour. “This required us to be on site more than we had anticipated,” he says.
Implementing projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai strengthened Searidge’s position in the market. “Our ability to penetrate an account from a sales perspective became stronger than what our channel could do,” Cheikh explains, adding that Dubai Airport was also a customer that preferred doing business with partners and vendors directly.
In 2010, Searidge terminated its distribution agreement, essentially “eliminating the middle man,” says Cheikh. The company still occasionally engages the channel as a subcontractor or when support is needed.
Since then, Searidge’s presence in the Middle East continued to grow and now includes working with Hamad International Airport in Doha, Quatar. “We have a tremendous network and spend a lot of time in the region,” says Cheikh, adding that he travels there six times a year.
He’ll be part of the Searidge team participating in ATC Global, an exhibition and conference of the international air traffic management industry, held in Dubai in October, one of the many trade shows and events the company supports.
Exporting to the UAE: Advice from Searidge Technologies CEO Moodie Cheikh
Choose agents and partners carefully : “Establishing a presence in a market often involves a traditional sales process. Agents have some leads and the ability to get in front of a customer but the customer still needs to be fully educated – that requires a close collaboration,” Cheikh explains. “What works for us is the kind of collaboration where agents are transparent and ready to bring us into the accounts as opposed to the ones who try to protect their contacts.”
Understand the market: “Whether you are working with agents or directly with customers, it’s important to understand the process,” says Cheikh. “Make sure you ask the right question, for example, does the market require a public tender and how long is the tender open? What are the regulations and requirements?”
Senior engagement is a must: “This is not the type of market where sending a salesperson or a couple of engineers is enough,” says Cheikh. “As CEO of Searidge, I’m there at least six times a year and we frequently have our C-levels and senior leadership from engineering there.”