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With the rise in aviation traffic over the world, especially between Europe, Africa and Asia, the Gulf countries – particularly the United Arab Emirates – have found themselves in a particularly advantageous position. Many passenger and freight flights, mindful of the issues of 20-hour and longer flights between Europe and Asia, have chosen the Gulf, and Dubai in particular, as a stopover destination. Sheikh Ahmed Al-Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and uncle of the current Sheikh Mohamed Al-Maktoum of Dubai, once famously described the Gulf as the center of the “new silk road”.
In this, the Gulf countries have wasted no time in seizing the opportunity. Once again, the first state to take action was Dubai, implementing a very clear policy that saw aviation as the main support for the Emirati economy by driving international freight, tourism, and finance to Dubai.
In 2014, the success of this operation is evident. Dubai’s airline, Emirates, is one of the top world airlines today with a fleet of over 140 craft. Qatar’s flagship carrier, flies 102 planes after just over 10 years of existence and saw its profits increase by over 200% in 2012. Infrastructures have also followed suit, with the Al-Maktoub International Airport in Dubai being the business international flights hub in the world, Qatar opening its brand-new international terminal with Hamad International Airport and the Kingdom Bahrain launching an expansion plan of its Bahrain International Airport in 2011.
In Dubai, the country that has the lead on aviation operations, the aviation sector already represents more than 30% of the economy. Other sectors strongly benefit from the pull of aviation – Real estate and construction being the first, as more and more expats and companies base their regional headquarters in Dubai, but also tourism and air freight.
Similar developments can be expected in Qatar first, then in Bahrain. As Oman Air and the Muscat International Airport grow, Oman can also be expected to join the winners of the New Silk Road.
While most of Africa doesn’t have the benefit of an advantageous geographic position, it does benefit from inter-continental traffic, particularly from South Africa on one end and Europe on the other. Large hubs such as Addis-Ababa, which controls East-West traffic, and Lagos, which functions as the regional hub for most of West-Central Africa, do exist. However, they have failed to grow as fast as the Middle-Eastern hubs, due to a combination of political factors and a lack of direction from the government. Carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines and Egypt Air should take advantage of these and work in conjunction with government to set up true transport hub to drive their countries’ growth.
Mai Emilie Dovan, Associate Director, Morgan Philips Executive Search Africa & Middle East