By Sarah Cowell – Oct 21 2009

In-FlightCatering-1With ITCA Dubai, the travel catering services exhibition, happening in November, we take a look at the issues shaping the air travel’s F&B industry.

The Middle East and Dubai in particular, has become the region setting the standard for exceptional in-flight catering as highlighted by the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards. Emirates was voted the top five best airline worldwide, and the World’s Best Airline Onboard Catering Awards featured the region’s key players in the top five, namely, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

According to the International Travel Catering Association (ITCA), the standard of in-flight catering is one of the top three deciding factors for passengers in the highly competitive airline industry. This, backed by the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) reports to date which suggest that the Middle East market is the only region still experiencing growth within the airline operating industry, demonstrates the opportunities and importance for in-flight catering in the region – a platform which ITCA Dubai provides for airlines seeking quality catering suppliers.

Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) is just one supplier that has raised the bar in terms of supplying a large number of meals while maintaining excellent food and beverage quality, on board flights. The company was founded in 1975, originally offering catering services exclusively to Emirates flights, but its operations has since been split to occupy two facilities based near Dubai International Airport – the newest of which opened in 2007 – allowing EFC to cater to some 120 airlines other than Emirates.

The new facility – EKFC1 – is a state-of-the-art operation and the most modern and largest of its kind in the world, in terms of volume throughput. At 55,000m2, it is capable of producing 115,000 meals per day, which are bound for Emirates’ flights only.

Emirates vice president of airport catering services Faysal Moufarraj says the high output volume is crucial given the airline’s rapidly expanding fleet. “Prompted by the incredible growth of Emirates airline, the move to have a separate catering facility allows EKFC1 to handle the Emirates onboard meal requirements from Dubai smoothly and with greater efficiency. This move reflects EKFC’s commitment to provide a superior quality product and service for Emirates airline.”

The second facility – EKFC2 – produces an average of 18,000 meals per day for other airlines that use Dubai as a hub destination, such as Lufthansa German Airlines. It covers some 31,700m2 and handles, on average, 160 flights per day.

“Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the EKFC2 catering operations provide full in-flight catering meal services for the many outside airlines that travel through Dubai International Airport,” explains Moufarraj.

“Each and every meal produced is made exactly to the airline’s specifications and is made to a special timeline to ensure the food is at its freshest when uplifted onto the aircraft.”

In addition, EKFC2 has a Halal certified kitchen, a fully equipped on-premise food analysis laboratory and a fully documented food safety system which is supported by a hygiene and safety department 24 hours a day.

Moufarraj explains that the company’s services extend beyond flight meals, however. “EKFC2 also provides catering services at airport outlets, Emirates lounges at Dubai Airport Concourse 1 and 2, VIP lounges belonging to other airlines at Dubai airport, as well as event catering and off-airport outlets.”

The catering division of Emirates expects a steady and consistent growth over the next 10 years, adds Moufarraj. “Dubai is quickly becoming one of the leading tourism destinations in the world which in turn brings new airlines and existing carriers to Dubai International in greater volumes. Many of these airlines will require in-flight catering services and Emirates is well placed to take advantage of this growth.”

Bahrain-based airline, Gulf Air, despite currently facing severe financial troubles, has been a market leader in initiating new in-flight catering schemes, such as its Sky Chef initiative. Each sky chef – of which the airline has more than 70 – has trained and worked at fine dining establishments from all over the world and each chef is encouraged to deliver their own style of meal presentation to bring a local flavour to the cabin service.

“We choose to hire internationally renowned chefs to work in our menu design department,” explains Gulf Air menu design specialist Brendan Kronk. “The meals that are presented to our guests initially start in our menu development office, the meals are then produced and evaluated in our test kitchens. Once approved, the final creation is implemented on board the aircraft. It is essential that we have chefs working in all areas of the menu design to ensure the final product is of the highest standard at all times,” Kronk adds.