KUWAIT: Kwang-Soo Lee, CEO of Incheon Korea for Airports Services, stands in Terminal 4 of Kuwait International Airport. - Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Nawara Fattahova

KUWAIT: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of passengers and flights dropped significantly this year compared to last year during the same period. During the period from August 1 to 31, 2019 at Kuwait airport's Terminal 4, 1,426 flights departed carrying 211,475 passengers, while 1,422 flights arrived carrying 247,478 passengers. During the same period in 2020, only 223 flights departed with 24,202 passengers, and 222 flights arrived with 9,341 passengers.

The T4 terminal of Kuwait International Airport opened on Aug 15, 2018. "This terminal - which is used exclusively by Kuwait Airways - is now operating 10 to 30 flights daily (both departures and arrivals), while it was 92 to 100 flights before the pandemic, with an average of 14,000 passengers daily," Kwang-Soo Lee, CEO of Incheon Korea for Airports Services (IKAS), the operator of T4, told Kuwait Times.

Today, T4 is fully equipped with all necessary services for passengers, and facilities will be further improved. "We aim to develop our services to be more comfortable for passengers. We will be conducting surveys on passenger satisfaction with the services and compare them with other airports, such as those in Dubai, Qatar and others. Until now there has been no evaluation of Kuwait airport, which is done by Airport Council International (ACI). This organization evaluates the service levels of airports around the world," he said.

New demands
The pandemic has resulted in new demands by passengers, so Incheon proposed new services to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). "Now with COVID-19, people are afraid of contacts with others, which requires the concept of a smart airport. Passengers now demand self check-in rather than coming in contact with staff. There are some machines for self check-in, but they even want baggage self-service, which is not available yet. Self check-in can be done at home or at the airport at the self check-in kiosks," explained Lee.

According to Lee, there is a need to improve facilities and the system. "Due to the pandemic, the budget for developing services was postponed. We have received many complaints from passengers that the transit area is very narrow and small, and is always crowded. So I suggested to the civil aviation to extend it to be well-organized," he noted.

"This terminal was built with a capacity of 4.5 million passengers per year. Last year we already exceeded this capacity, as we had 4.9 million passengers using it. Also, the baggage area is always crowded. But all work is stopped now due to the pandemic."

More improvements are in the works. "We need to improve advertising at T4. We want to install big multimedia screens to make passengers enjoy viewing them. Most passengers want quick services at the airport and don't want to wait in long queues, so we want to make procedures faster. We have 50 counters, but they are not all working at the same time.

We need a service level agreement with Kuwait Airways, as we need to have at least 30 to 35 counters operating if there are four flights arriving at the same time. If they don't provide us this number, we can penalize KAC. But during the pandemic, there are no queues, as there are only a few flights," Lee said.

"Also, the baggage claim is problematic and passengers have to wait for long periods. The capacity is not enough, as each plane uses one carousel, which has a 400-bag capacity. When a plane arrives with over 300 passengers and 700 pieces of luggage, it can't handle everything at the same time, which causes a delay. Also, sometimes there is a delay from the customs. We operators don't have any power as a foreign company. Also, we need an upgrade of the automation system connecting all terminals. Improving services needs investment, and the budget is important for any development," Lee pointed out.

Training Kuwaitis
Incheon is training young Kuwait employees as part of its contract. "We do everything including maintenance, operations, training, service improvement, security and others. Jobs are limited to Kuwaitis, and training is very important. Some passengers complain why foreigners are screening them, as there are only a few Kuwaitis working as screeners. I hope in the future more Kuwaitis will work at the airport," he said.

"We are very competitive operators, as we won the bid with 70 percent of the highest bid. We operate very efficiently and we are doing our best to improve services for passengers. Incheon has ISO 10040 and ISO 10002 service standard certificates for customer satisfaction," he added.

Safety and security is Incheon's no. 1 priority. "Due to security measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the number of greeters was limited to maintain social distancing and avoid crowding. The government has allowed only one greeter for each family, with a maximum of 60 greeters inside the airport, with priority to those who come first. People are complaining of the limited space and of waiting outside in the hot weather. Safety is important, but we also have to consider passenger convenience," concluded Lee.