The GCC airports are in a massive expansion mode to cope with the anticipated demand. In 2013, the UAE airports are due to handle over 85 million passengers, while the Middle East airports will handle 400 million passengers a year by 2020, according to experts.
According to an Oxford Economics report, the aviation sector supports 224,000 jobs in the UAE, including 141,000 jobs directly supported by the aviation sector, and will provide more than 400,000 new jobs in various disciplines directly and indirectly in the next 20 years.
According to the study, the Middle East has 1,029 aircraft in service, operated by 65 airlines from 70 commercial airports. The GCC has 36 airports, including eight in the UAE.
Aviation experts participating in the 13th edition of the Airport Show and the debut Global Airport Leaders' Forum (Galf) in Dubai in May, have underscored the imperative need for launching airport leadership development programmes and capacity building initiatives to meet the rapidly changing requirements of commercially-run airports.
"There remains a shortage in professional manpower because of the pace of development that we are witnessing, and we are filling these positions with foreign expertise," says Khalifa Al Zaffin, Executive Chairman, Dubai Aviation City Corporation.
"Nonetheless, I believe the region has a sufficient number of aviation professionals to fill top-level positions, although I am not sure how long we will be able to sustain this given the rapid growth and development of the aviation sector."
He said: "Intelligent leadership is a crucial factor that will enable us to achieve our long-term goals and vision. We need to maintain a pool of leaders who fully understand and are competent in managing smart technologies that we have implemented to effectively and efficiently run our airports.
"We therefore need to nurture leaders who are capable of maintaining our competitive advantages with regards to operating a genuinely smart airport."
He said the UAE has done remarkably well in creating more opportunities for UAE nationals to be employed in the aviation sector.
The strong growth of Emirates airline, for instance, resulted in widespread recruitment of Emiratis across different disciplines.
Moreover, Dubai Airports and Dubai Aviation City Corporation were equally committed to expanding the Emiratisation programme. The aviation sector, which now accounts for around 28 per cent of the national GDP, will certainly have a huge impact in driving the Emiratisation programme. The aviation leadership in the UAE has been very progressive, very open minded and really rising up to the challenge.
Khalifa said there was an urgent need to strengthen the human resource development initiatives in the aviation sector and we need to take advantage of both local and foreign expertise to cope with the industry's rapid growth. "Moreover, we need to build more local institutions that provide specialised aviation training."
The forum will focus on the local market, with the aim to provide regional airport management with an opportunity to highlight skill challenges and shortages and find tangible solutions in order to develop a pool of highly-skilled Arab professionals.
Aws Al Khanjari, General Manager, Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies and member of Galf Advisory Board, said one of the important qualities of a leader was to delegate powers to other competent colleagues and thereby build a team which will guarantee enhanced profitability and performance for an organisation based on efficient and effective leadership.
He said:"The forum presents a unique opportunity for those involved in the management of airports in the UAE and the region, to identify the best practices in leadership, utilizing the perspectives of international experts who have long been engaged in the management of airports."
Khanjari said the massive airport expansion in the UAE calls for creating a vast pool of leaders to run the huge operations handling close to 85 million passengers a year.
The 1st Global Airport Leaders' Forum (Galf), alongside the Airport Show, is scheduled to bring global pioneers and pacesetters of the airports industry to Dubai to share their professional insights, practical experiences and future perspectives on a wide spectrum of issues and challenges confronting the industry. GALF will be held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC).