Aviation has already transformed the UAE – but now it’s time for Dubai to change the face of the industry.
Dubai has seen phenomenal aviation growth over a relatively short time; having opened its first airport in 1960, and launched Emirates airline in 1985, the city has matured into a world-leading aviation centre; home to the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passengers, and with global connections to over 240 destinations. To this end, aviation accounts for around 27% of Dubai’s GDP. Dubai International Airport leads the world in international passenger volume, handling 89.1 million travellers in 2018, and the airport is currently working to expand capacity to 118 million passengers by 2023 under the DXB Plus programme.
At Al Maktoum International (DWC), where over 200 million passengers and 16 million tonnes of cargo is the end goal, the bigger investment picture covers the 145-square-metre Dubai South community with dedicated aviation, logistics, business and residential districts. Recently, the master developer awarded an $81 million infrastructure deal to Tristar Engineering & Construction to enhance the site. Multinational food and drink brand Nestlé has led by example, opening a 30,000 square-metre zero-waste factory in close proximity to DWC, from where it will export products across the region.
Yet, from the outside looking in, Dubai has primarily been seen as a financial and trade and tourism destination, so the rise of it as an aircraft manufacturing starter may surprise a few. But as we’ve seen in recent decades, the Emirate’s masterful diversification of its economy has been a key to its success. Having flourished from modest date palms to a hub of global trade and tourism, Dubai’s industrial capabilities have barely been glimpsed.
“The potential is definitely there for Dubai to industrialise part of its economy,” says Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at Strategicaero Research. “Dubai already has the groundwork to help integrate elements of value proposition between Dubai World Central and Dubai International Airport as key gateways to the city. Add in Jebel Ali port and free zone with the massive road network and you can see that the infrastructure is ready to go.”
The UAE invests to ascend above the competition
The UAE is emerging as a next-generation centre of excellence in terms of aerospace manufacturing, according to experts in the field. With an industry unencumbered by legacy models and dated infrastructure, the UAE is uniquely poised to develop manufacturing infrastructure that addresses the needs of the future.
GE, for example, is working with Emirates on the design and construction of its most technologically advanced engine overhaul shop, based on analytics. Over two years, the two teams have worked together to constantly update underlying analytics and data points including environmental data, previous shop visits for the engine and continuous engine operating data and detailed configuration analysis to develop an accurate system that allows a thorough understanding of the performance and the life-expectancy of each GE90 engine in the Emirates fleet.
According to Emirates Group spokespeople, once the 90,000-sqm facility opens, the two teams will continue to partner, improving the system and building a broader scope of predictive analysis for higher fidelity. Emirates Engineering also works closely with both GE and Rolls-Royce on a number of cutting-edge technology partnerships, allowing the engineering team to develop a full understanding of the technology involved in the maintenance of aircraft engines and also permits exchange of knowledge and best practices in both directions.
You only have to look at the tremendous investment in aviation and aerospace infrastructure in the country to understand why there is such potential for further growth. Dubai Airports, which owns and manages both hubs, has undertaken a $7.8 billion airport and airspace expansion programme aimed at supporting the sector’s growth and enabling an estimated 22 per cent of total employment and 32 per cent of the emirate’s GDP by 2020. In addition, DWC’s $32 billion expansion will, once complete, see the airport become the biggest in the world.
Passenger potential will ensure demand for parts
Already recognised as a leading global business hub, Dubai also has a very interesting role to play in terms of delivering sustainable value, says Meredith Carson, CEO of Bravo Romeo by AJ and communications consultant to the aviation industry. "Trade logistics, tourism, as well as financial and business services have supported growth to date, in addition to the emirate’s strategic location, ease of business establishment and connectivity."
“The Smart Dubai initiative – an emirate-wide digital transformation exercise focused on happiness in life and business – will also include the emirate’s Blockchain Strategy," she adds. "This will have a huge impact on the way in which business is conducted – certainly with regard to logistics and supply chain management. Designed to be an open platform that will be shared with the world, it’s being built on the pillars of government efficiency, industry creation and international leadership."