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Abu Dhabi’s Sky-High Ambitions

Abu Dhabi’s Sky-High Ambitions

The capital emirate has grandiose plans to lead the world in aviation and aerospace, writes John Swift, director of NATS, Middle East.

The UAE’s geographical location, placing it within eight hours of flying time from two-thirds of the global population, has facilitated well documented, rapid growth for regional airlines, including Emirates and Etihad. Meanwhile Air Arabia and flydubai have also demonstrated significant growth in the low-cost carrier sector.

With this very credible foundation, the UAE now wishes to develop itself as a hub for global aerospace, growing in sectors beyond airline operations to include manufacturing, maintenance, defence and space.

Abu Dhabi, in particular, has demonstrated its commitment in this area through investments and partnerships in new manufacturing facilities such as Strata in Al Ain, maintenance repair and overhaul facilities such as ADAT and AMMROC, unmanned air vehicles by ADASI, the development of the Yahsat satellite capability, and through its support for space technologies through Virgin Galactic.

The Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision has been described by Etihad’s CEO, James Hogan, as “a roll call of the world’s best-in-class companies in partnership with Abu Dhabi,” and already all the significant players in the industry have a presence in the capital emirate.

This commitment by global aerospace companies, facilitated by the UAE’s clarity of vision, strategy and business friendly policies, has permitted rapid growth in the aerospace sector. However, there are still a number of issues to be addressed to ensure this expansion is not constrained.

In manufacturing, Strata has itself been stretching targets to increase its workforce proportion of UAE nationals from the current 30 per cent to 50 per cent by 2015. Recruiting and training so many specialised staff members will be a challenge to balance with a rapidly growing order book, although results so far have been very positive.

Whilst the UAE has an abundance of key resources such as skilled labour, cheap power and capital investments to support its global aerospace ambitions, there is one other resource which is not so readily available: airspace.

Already under pressure from the rapidly growing airline traffic alone, future airspace users in the UAE will include another flight training academy at DWC, R&D test flights of new airframes including unmanned air vehicles, operations of the next generation fighter aircraft, and potential sub-orbital space flights from a yet to be located spaceport.

Managing some of the world’s most congested airspace portions and busiest international airports on a small land mass has forced the UK’s NATS to continually evolve tools and procedures required to deal with these challenges.

However, technology alone is not the solution; working collaboratively with military counterparts to fully utilise airspace dependent upon the civilian “business mission” and military “operational mission” requirements is one of the keys to success.

A great example of this cooperation occurred around the Olympics in 2012 when NATS facilitated the biggest airborne security operation over London since the Second World War, allowing the deployment of RAF fighter aircraft with minimal disruption to scheduled traffic.

Another key element of NATS’ success is playing a leading role within Europe, as air traffic management (ATM) problems are no longer simply national issues, but challenges which often require regional solutions.

A country in the GCC, just because it doesn’t have a national airline the size of Emirates, doesn’t mean it can avoid having to create capacity for the many flights that enter and leave the Gulf every day. In this region, your neighbour’s ATM problems are your ATM problems, and increased cooperation will be required to design and implement the network that will support the ambitious growth plans of the UAE.

Through a collaborative effort and a cohesive plan, Abu Dhabi is demonstrating to the world at large that it has the potential to become a major hub for aerospace, aviation and space innovation, and development. It is vital that all the key enablers of this exciting vision are focused upon to ensure continued success.

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