Lean on me
Aviation City CEO Abdulla Ahmed Al Qurashi on how the upcoming aircraft maintenance facility will support Al Maktoum International Airport.
Why develop such a huge maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in Jebel Ali?
Demand is high and MRO growth in the Middle East is 8.9%. There is no area, space or facilities for these operators. The Dubai World Central project and Aviation City will create more space for MROs, and we expect the 8.9% growth to increase three to four times in the Middle East. By the time the airport is operational, we will have repeat business.
So far, we have a lot of companies involved, with others to be announced. We have international and regional companies, as well as airlines.
How much will Aviation City cost?
As of today the infrastructure costs are estimated at five billion dirhams (US$1.4 billion). By adding the super structure, that figure will increase because we will start construction on an office park, facilities, industry units and show rooms, which will take another couple of years. With Aviation City, some areas are ready, while others need to be developed.
So you've had a lot of interest from MRO companies?
There's big growth taking place with the MRO and airline businesses. The MRO industry requires more manpower, education and training, so it's very big. We try to cover these areas, which are important to the industry, and our strategy to 2015 is to provide that. I'm talking about parts supply, education, testing facilities and training.
These are all requirements for the industry. We have a good number of companies involved and hopefully in a year's time the airport in Jebel Ali will be operational.
Which companies have agreed to join Aviation City?
There are a few that have signed but we have yet to announce them. We signed some recently and expect to reveal more soon. They are different companies, so we're talking about MROs and supply businesses. We will hopefully name some big companies soon.
What are the benefits for companies moving to this facility?
Before we talk about aviation city we must talk about Dubai itself. What are the incentives and what is the key success to this project? It's Dubai itself. It's taken 30 to 40 years to provide this platform and attract major international companies to this region.
It involves good schools, infrastructure and business. We will have the largest airport in the world and there is nothing to compare.
We are a hub between east and west for people flying from Australia or Dubai to the US and Europe to Asia. It's a gateway for several regions.
The Middle East is a growing market and having an airport city in this region is a new concept.
When will the operation be complete?
We will announce that soon. To have the airport being built at the same time means everything will be built in phases. The first phase is almost complete, with the runway 100% finished. The control tower is 95% finished, while other airport systems are almost ready.
We will soon be testing the runway and by the first quarter of next year it will be operational. In terms of why this airport is different, most in the world are old. But this is a new hub, which we had specifically designed by major commercial companies.
The runway is 4.5 km long and the taxiway is also bigger than any other airport. It's capable of handling the A380 and wide-bodied aircraft.
When developing this airport, we have gone for the latest technology and systems to create a modern infrastructure. We hope the entire project will be fully operational in three to five years.
On a personal note, how does it feel to be in charge of such a huge project?
I feel very proud. It's a huge project in global terms, although I'm only involved in part of it.
The whole project is down to the vision of Sheikh Mohammed and he's behind it all. We have a clear vision of what we want to do. Our leaders know what they want, which makes things easy.
Will there be enough MRO specialists for the rising number of aircraft?
Definitely. Demand is going to be high, but at the same time the number of aviation academies is increasing. We have just started two companies and will launch another two shortly.
It's one of our strategies to focus on training and academies to create more manpower. One of the leading training companies has signed with us.
That deal was signed during the last Dubai Airshow and the company will soon start construction. It has simulators and lots of high tech equipment for training.
Will the facility help plug the general skills shortage?
That's not a problem. There is availability and the manpower is there but the issue may be with the relocation packages and wages. Even in Dubai, the technicians and engineers are reasonable and available, so we are talking about having a big number of trained people coming through. It's a strategy that we are focusing on.
How strong is this region's aircraft maintenance industry?
It is strong and healthy. The new facility will help make it stronger. We have statistics that show in five years time there will be 36,000 aircraft, which is a good number.
By having an increased number of commercial airports, more aircraft are coming to the region and that requires a lot of maintenance. It also requires a lot of manpower, so this is definitely a good thing.
We're finding that many big airlines are outsourcing their MRO to focus on the core businesses, so MRO companies today are securing good business.
In the US, Europe and Asia there is a big MRO market, but this region is also very important. In this area we have no taxation, so wages are reasonable. There is also good availability of manpower from Asia, with engineers and technicians around.
With inflation and rising property prices, is Dubai still an attractive place?
Oh yes. Dubai is a free city with no income or corporate tax. Also, the custom duty, if you compare UAE to other countries, is 5%, which is very reasonable. There are lots of businesses here and this is where the future is. Business is booming in the UAE, especially in Dubai, and there are many people looking for good jobs.
What will happen to the existing airport when Jebel Ali opens?
To be honest with you, I have no idea. It's too early to say or decide. It's an issue for the government to decide what happens, but we are focusing on how the new airport will be 100% operational.
Have the plans for Aviation City changed from the original design?
Yes, there is big demand for MRO and we have increased capacity for more MRO companies. We can do it with a little modification. We are also looking to increase the size of Aviation City, which is 80 sq km but we are still thinking of expanding it further.
What will be your role once the facility is operational?
We will have to manage it and be the facility and services provider. We have phases planned for the next seven to 10 years involving a lighting unit, office park, hospitality and air show area. We will be the service provider to all these companies while acting as a central business.
Aviation City will be a free zone, providing a range of services to all the companies operating here. It's a huge area and we're starting with MRO but we have other areas that cover commercial aviation with the lighting and office park.
Traffic is a big issue in Dubai, so will there be problems getting to Aviation City?
No. One of our objectives is to have consultants carrying out traffic studies. We will be investing in the purple line on the Metro, which has already been announced. There are two major highways running to the facility, so I don't think we will have any difficulties.
Our people are working closely with the Road Transport Authority to address this.
The second idea is the airport city concept we're developing, which is expected to reduce traffic. We will have 120-150 million passengers eventually and many people will be working in the area.
That's why we have accommodation, with the residential city and golf city planned. There will also be a commercial city and staff village developed, so 70-80% of the people working in the area will be accommodated at airport city to help reduce the traffic.
What are the main objectives for the next 12 months?
Hopefully, the control tower at the new airport will be operational. The infrastructure is ready with the final stages underway. Our next step is to start testing the runway to certify it, which should take place soon.
It's one of the best designs for a runway, taxiway and airport, so we're happy. We have built it to maximise the runway and taxiway space.
Take-offs and landings will be quicker, and the design itself allows us to do that. Three aircraft will be able to land and take-off at the same time. It's too early to say whether that would be three A380s, but time will tell. Hopefully, in one year we can have a good celebration.