Work on the new passenger terminal of Abu Dhabi Airport will start in April, according to a senior official. The announcement was made at a conference on the aviation sector that has highlighted the Middle East’s emergence as a world leader in terms of growth.
The passenger terminal will cost Dh1 billion, and work on the airport’s second runway will also start this year, marking a year of serious growth. Expansion work is already under way on the cargo area to handle 500,000 tonnes by the end of the year.
Al Mazrouie was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Middle East Aviation Outlook Summit organised by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
He said a study is under way to make Al Ain Airport a hub for cargo and economy aviation. A free economic zone will be set up near the airport to attract companies specialised in aircraft maintenance, rental and the manufacture of some aircraft parts.
He said the Middle East, India and China account for 50 per cent of aircraft orders over the past five years, as they have ordered 1,170 aircraft worth $140bn.
Al Mazrouie said the aviation industry in the Middle East is the fastest-growing sector in the world vis-à-vis passenger movement. It achieved a rate of growth of 18.6 per cent in 2007 while Europe’s was only five per cent, United States (three per cent), Asia (7.8 per cent) and Africa (13.4 per cent).
Infrastructure at airports in the region is responding to the growth in the number of passengers. Dubai, for instance, is building an airport that can accommodate 120 million passengers in Jebel Ali annually. Also Qatar is building a new airport that will open next year. Meanwhile, King Abdul Aziz Airport in Saudi Arabia is being expanded to host 80 million passengers by 2035.
The Abu Dhabi conference is the first of its kind to be held in the Middle East and the Gulf. Such conferences, the chairman noted, used to be held in Asia and the Pacific region. More than 200 aviation experts have descended upon the UAE capital for the event.
Meanwhile, Etihad Airways Executive Chairman James Hogan said his company intends to buy 24 planes for $8bn (Dh29.3bn) this year. Last summer it bought 12 aircraft worth $2.4bn.
Hogan said Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is negotiating with Airbus and Boeing to buy 100 new aircraft before 2020.
The fast growing airliner carried 4.6 million passengers in 2007, and is expecting a 30 per cent rise this year. Hogan said the big expansion at the capital’s airport is part of a $6.8bn investment in growth being made over the next few years.
In Hogan’s opinion, the aviation sector has seen unprecedented liberalisation for the first time in the region and aviation technologies have made non-stop trips to and from the Middle East possible.
Executive Director for the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation Peter Harrison expected aviation movement in the Middle East to score growth of 24 per cent over the coming 10 years.
“We expect big growth in the aviation sector for the countries in the Middle East as this sector has grown in an unprecedented manner and faster than any growth in the rest of the markets across the world.”
By comparison, Harrison said the sector has seen a decline in growth of two per cent is some parts of the world.
Destinations in the Middle East, on the other hand, increased in popularity by 12 per cent to 13 per cent. Each new route, he added, creates 50 new markets.
Harrison also said the Abu Dhabi Government intends to earmark $40bn to $50bn for the building of new airports and expanding and modernising the old one whereas countries in Europe combined have allocated $80bn for the same purpose.
However, he warned of several challenges faced by the region’s aviation industry. The most important of these is shortage of skilled employees for operation and maintenance as well as the provision of investments needed for sustainable growth.
Also the general lack of trained navigators and training facilities and compliance with world environmental criteria, is a problem for Harrison.
“These challenges have to be countered with maximum speed.”
Meanwhile, an Ohio University professor attending the event asked people in charge of the Gulf’s aviation sector to give priority to the improvement and modernisation of management and to set the new strategies that maintain Gulf airliners’ competitiveness instead of focusing on new airports or new aircraft.
He said that priority should be given to improving security arrangements at airports in the Gulf to avoid any incidents that might impact the growth.
Major airport expansion for Abu Dhabi unveiled