Eliska Hill, GM of Chapman Freeborn Air Chartering, discusses the logistical challenges facing the Middle East live events sector.
When the applause dies down and the crowds drift away the concert/event can be quickly forgotten, but for the logistics team responsible for moving the stage and sound equipment, it is time for action.
As the live events industry runs a tight ship in regards to turn-around times, there is no time to waste.
So, immediately as the lights go down on stage, the crew get busy in their preparation to pack and load the equipment ready for it to be transported to its next destination, or if leased, it is returned promptly to avoid any extra charges.
This is where the second phase of the logistics cycle kicks into action, and again, so too do the various challenges in moving this specialist equipment in and out of the Middle East.
Few people have any idea of the huge logistical operation that is involved in ensuring that all the stage equipment, an artist or band required for a concert is in place and ready on time.
But, it is something that two locally based companies take in their stride after many years of experience.
Chapman Freeborn, a global logistics company specialising in aircraft chartering, has provided many cargo aircraft over the years for various events and concert tours, as a small, but significant, part of their general air charter business.
The company also regularly provides both private executive jets for the artist or larger VIP configured aircraft for bands and their entourage.
With 35 years of experience in chartering and 36 offices around the world, it provides the largest network of aircraft and brokers ready to deal with a variety of charter requirements, to ensure the equipment arrives on time.
Chapman Freeborn has been based in the UAE for 10 years and through its offices in Dubai and Sharjah, provides extensive services for both passenger and cargo charter flights within the region and globally.
Chapman Freeborn works closely with EFM, a specialist freight project management company providing high-end service to the sports, events, exhibition and entertainment industries. EFM has been operating since 2000 and has five offices in the US, Europe and the Middle East.
Commencing operations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 2008, EFM brings European levels of service in the movement of stage and sound equipment.
While much of the equipment required for a concert can be moved by scheduled airline services, sometimes the amount of cargo and/or the time frame required to move it between concert venues requires a dedicated cargo aircraft. In this case Chapman Freeborn and EFM work together to ensure that every item is moved safely and quickly.
One of the key factors that is very important to Chapman Freeborn and EFM is protecting the identity of the artists and bands for whom they move personnel and equipment on behalf of. While both companies have an extensive roster of major clients, details will remain undisclosed to the general public.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are becoming increasingly popular on the concert circuit, and the event promoters are attracting big name acts to perform one-off concerts here or add in an extra performance within their tour schedule.
Whilst previously, the UAE was seen as too far off the radar to be of interest, now we are seeing more and more of the major artists performing here. Promoters are winning the battle to promote the UAE as a viable alternative venue.
Various logistical challenges arise when an artist is based in the US or UK, and is simply making an appearance for a one-off concert.
Firstly, the management company assigns a production company that will then deal with a logistics team.
Depending on what is available at the location, the team will establish which equipment that artist or band requires to be moved to the venue.
An artist can travel with an incredible amount of equipment ranging from instruments and sound equipment, to lighting and giant video walls.
The GCC countries present unique challenges when it comes to transporting stage and sound equipment, and both Chapman Freeborn and EFM are fully experienced in dealing with whatever challenges present themselves.
For example, transporting equipment by road from Dubai to Doha through Saudi Arabia can present a host of issues.
Delays at the Saudi border can be a major issue and one key point is to make sure that the cargo is easily accessible to the sniffer dogs checking the shipment. This will mean that crates and boxes are not forced open and equipment moved and possibly damaged. The time taken to transport equipment on this route is four days, with three days allowed just for the customs procedures within each country transversed.
Often this can be quite critical if there is another event following on. If a company is not aware of these issues, they may commit to a two day transit, and the equipment can be delayed.
The heat in the Middle East is a major factor that has to be taken into consideration, especially with transporting kit around the GCC area. Whilst previously open trucks would have been provided, the increased value of modern equipment, and the risk of border delays, means this is no longer an option.
EFM has recently purchased a custom built three ton truck specially designed to carry valuable equipment around the region. Moving items such as orchestra instruments around the GCC is another issue, as the high temperatures can often affect the sensitive mechanisms. To combat this issue, refrigerated trucks are used as they provide the right ambient temperature along with a secure environment.
For shipping equipment in and out of the Middle East in a tight time frame, air freight is the only option.
Combining the issues of the volume of equipment, the time frame between concerts, and the location of the venues before and after the concert creates a picture of whether a scheduled service or chartered aircraft will be more suitable.
As an example, moving 30 tons of equipment from the UAE to South America within three days provides a close call, but often the cost factors involved will push towards the scheduled services.
Dubai has developed to become a major hub within the global airline network, and provides an excellent intermediary point between East and West. This allows for regular connections from USA and Europe to Dubai, and on to the Far East to service the event industry requirements.
The scheduled versus charter market for moving concert/event equipment is around 90% in favour of scheduled services. The cost factor of moving kit on a scheduled flight is far smaller than providing a dedicated charter aircraft. However sometimes the locations and timings of the other event before and after the concert in the UAE, does not tie in with the airline’s schedules and only the charter option will work.
Due to the nature of the music and events industry, Chapman Freeborn often won’t always receive the final weights and dimensions for the equipment from the promoter until the last minute, which makes the load planning and aircraft type allocation very difficult. While on one hand, none of the equipment can be left behind, the promoter doesn’t want to pay for a half-empty aircraft.
One of the other problems we face here in the Gulf are issues with certain types of aircraft. Many airports within the GCC are restricting operations for older, noisier aircraft and others are not permitting aircraft with certain registrations to land. This makes it harder to source suitable aircraft that can be cost effective.
Another concern is that, while loading staff in Europe are trained to handle sensitive concert equipment, airport staff within the GCC regions are often more used to handling general cargo and are not aware of the special handling requirements and which units can be tipped, or the impact that rough handling can have.
This is important mainly for the charter flights, when the cargo may not be palletized and hence bulk loaded on the airport. Often much of the equipment is packed in wheeled flight cases, which is always difficult to load and stack within an aircraft. Chapman Freeborn aims to arrange for trucks to obtain airside access to deliver to and collect directly from the aircraft, to minimise the handling of the equipment.
As the value of the cargo is often very high, it is important to ensure everyone involved, handling agents and airline crew are made aware careful handling is a must. To ensure everything is loaded safely, EFM and Chapman Freeborn provide their own staff to supervise the loading and sometimes even travel with the aircraft.
Due to the size of Chapman Freeborn’s network, they can often utilise an aircraft that may be located nearer the departure point to minimise the positioning costs, or combine with another flight to reduce the cost to the end client. Sometimes there may be two concerts happening in the same area at the same time and flights can be combined to create two one-way options to reduce the cost. The key factor is that when there are back-to-back shows with a flight in between, there is simply no room for any major delays.
Moving dangerous equipment, for example fireworks, by air within the GCC regions provides a whole new set of challenges. The permissions required are extensive and need to be fully researched to find the optimum solution.
When a last minute request came in on a Thursday afternoon to ship fireworks from Doha to Muscat for a National Day celebration on Saturday night, only quick action from the Chapman Freeborn charter team in Dubai meant the required over flight permits were approved in time, to allow the chartered AN26 aircraft to operate over UAE airspace during the weekend. The fireworks arrived and the event was a success.
If the equipment has to be hired, the time frame moving it to and from the venue is pretty critical. If arriving by air, sometimes equipment will arrive in one lot, and then will be split up and moved to different locations for further hiring with other bands, or sent back to its base location. This can often raise challenges with customs in the Middle East, as the number of pieces can change multiple times, and this requires co-ordination with customs officials.
Concert equipment needs to be in place well before the event, to allow plenty of time for set up and sound checks. This makes everything more time critical and depending on the amount of equipment, means that not only a Plan A, be investigated but wherever possible a Plan B.
Finally, the most important aspect is that Chapman Freeborn understand the complex issues involved in any project and are prepared for any eventuality they may encounter.
The promoters can be secure in the knowledge that their equipment will be safe in the hands of professionals, and will be moved as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible.