40 years of aviation industry in the UAE

Shaikh Ahmad recalls transformation of UAE’s aviation sector in past four decades

Dubai: Four decades ago, the only airlines flying in and out of the UAE were small carriers serving regional cities. Today, UAE’s airports connect millions of passengers every year to cities in just about every continent on the globe.


Among the people who have overseen this vast transformation is Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who currently serves as the president of Dubai Civil Aviation and chairman and chief executive officer of Emirates Airline and Group. Shaikh Ahmad told Gulf News ahead of the newspaper’s 40th anniversary on September 30, how the aviation industry progressed in the country during the last four decades.

Shaikh Ahmad has been spearheading the country’s aviation sector since 1985, the year Emirates Airline was launched.

His career in aviation started with his appointment as president of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, the governing body that oversaw activities of Dubai International Airport and Dubai Duty Free, among other organisations.

“The UAE’s aviation landscape had a limited global presence at the time that Emirates was formed. Airlines flying in and out of the UAE were much smaller and mostly serving regional points, and international airlines used the UAE as a transit point to connect to the Middle and Far East,” he recalled.

“That has changed dramatically.”

Currently, the Dubai International Airport serves millions of passengers a year. According to its operator Dubai Airports, passenger traffic at the airport reached 51.9 million in the first seven months of the year. In 2017, the airport served 88.2 million passengers, retaining its place as the busiest airport for international passengers.

The change from a small airport to a global hub did not come easy.

“We have worked hard to create the right infrastructure and conditions to serve our growth ambitions at DXB, and it has paid off,” Shaikh Ahmad said.

He said that for Emirates, key events that pushed the airline forward included being the first to order Airbus A380 aircraft, which he described as “industry game-changer.”

“We have also amassed a fleet of the full Boeing 777 family, which has enabled us to extend our network to ultra-long haul routes, and has redefined the way the industry looks at maximising networks,” he said via email.

“Emirates sponsorships have also been immensely successful in projecting our brand to millions around the world.”

Emirates’ sponsorships currently span various sports including football, rugby, tennis, motorsports, horseracing, golf and cricket. In football, the Dubai-based carrier sponsors giant teams such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, among others.

Other key milestones over the past 33 years in Shaikh Ahmad’s eyes include the “exponential growth in Emirates’ network,” which now covers six continents. He said the build-up of a modern fleet in a relatively short period is another accomplishment “never seen before on this scale in the airline industry.”

It’s not just the growth over the decades that Emirates is proud of. The aviation industry is expected to contribute $53.1 billion to Dubai’s gross domestic product in 2020 and support over 754,000 jobs in the emirate.

“This is not a coincidence. It’s a calculated approach that has built the critical competencies and infrastructure to get to where we are today, and we have a solid foundation to growth further,” Shaikh Ahmad said.

Looking ahead, he expects Emirates to grow further. He said the aim is to operate as a lean organisation that uses the latest technology to improve on-ground and onboard journeys for its passengers.

He also expects Emirates to have a broader network and to unlock further growth in the UAE’s aviation industry.

“The UAE’s aviation profile, which has already garnered an unparalleled reputation on the world stage, will continue to grow internationally and we will push harder to maintain our pioneering role.”

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