New airport infrastructure and investment for the Middle East

How the aviation industry is set to transform in the Gulf – and why Dubai has a front-row seat to the action.

It’s blue skies ahead for the region’s aviation sector, with an estimated 258 million additional passengers per year forecast to choose Middle East carriers and airports as part of their travel plans through to 2035, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) figures.

Economic diversification away from hydrocarbon dependence and a long-term focus on tourism and logistics sector growth are fuelling the positive outlook with airport infrastructure developments across the region moving at full throttle. More than US$100 billion worth of projects are planned and/or under construction spanning the Gulf and beyond.

“[Despite] a number of clouds on the horizon… Emirates and other carriers in the region still enjoy a great geographic advantage in terms of access to key growth markets with state-of-the-art fleets and hub capacity,” said interpnational aviation expert and industry consultant John Strickland.

The long list of regional projects includes Bahrain International Airport’s US$1 billion expansion program; a multi-billion dollar new terminal and additional runway at Kuwait International; the tri-phased redevelopment of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and, closer to home, expansion projects at Ajman, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi airports.

The UAE leads with ambitious targets and high investment

Aviation accounts for around 27% of Dubai’s GDP and the emirate retains its crown as a global hub for both passenger and cargo traffic. Dubai International Airport leads the world in international passenger volume, handling 83.6 million travellers in 2016 according to Airports Council International. 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 that, according to Khalifa Al Zaffin, executive chairman of Dubai Aviation City, will house around one million people and create 500,000 jobs upon phased completion.

“Continued diversification of Dubai’s economy is a key driver, as is further enhancement of the tourism offering,” says Strickland. “Of course, further airport investment in additional capacity at Dubai and Dubai World Central is a fundamental part of the strategy.”

Dubai Airports CEO, Paul Griffiths, agrees. “DWC is starting to make its mark as an emerging regional hub [and] remains an important element of our strategy to provide timely capacity to accommodate passenger and cargo traffic growth,”

The UAE will lead Middle East passenger growth in 2017 with an annual increase of more than 6.3%, according to IATA estimates, and investment into aviation research, development and manufacturing is a key element of Dubai Government’s Science, Technology & Innovation Higher Policy, with just under US$11 billion of committed investment.

The aviation trade shows to know

According to Daniyal Qureshi, group exhibition director for The Airport Show, regional infrastructure development continues to open doors to new business possibilities. “A Frost & Sullivan report estimated that the global annual spend on airport security will surge to US$12.67 billion in 2023, up from US$8.22 billion in 2014,” he said.


Now in its 17th year, The Airport Show has registered a 20% year-on-year increase in bookings with exhibitors covering the gamut of aviation expertise from airport build, operations and security to IT, air traffic management and ground support services; and two new zones have been added for 2017 – air traffic and air security.

“Carriers from the region have steadily increased their share of international traffic. Going further, regional airlines will continue to push airport expansion to accommodate growth; creating tremendous opportunities for global suppliers,” Qureshi remarked.

It’s a similar story for the biennial Dubai Airshow, with organiser Michele van Akelijen, managing director, F&E Aerospace, confirming an expanded line-up for the 2017 edition in response to market demand. “This year will be including four new pavilions and conferences: Space Pavilion, UAV Summit, Cargo Zone and the Airport Solutions Dubai, demonstrating Dubai’s importance as a global hub for the aviation industry.”

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