Short of supply
Does the rapid expansion of the Middle East's aviation industry mean it is suffering from a shortage of airport staff?
Airport Middle East investigates the key factors that the sector must address to plug the potential skills shortage.
With billions of US dollars worth of airport development taking place across the region and Middle Eastern airlines ordering more planes, finding and training aviation staff is becoming a main priority for airport managers.
The shortage of pilots across the region has been widely publicised in mainstream news, but is the situation just as severe when it comes to attracting talented candidates for various airport roles, including ground operations, technicians and information technology experts?
With 2000 aircraft expected to be delivered in the next 20 years, the recruitment and skills demand in the Middle East has reached all time high.
Middle Eastern airlines all have webpages dedicated to recruitment opportunities and the region's airports are adopting measures to avoid a potential workforce and skills shortfall.
As phase one of the Dubai International Airport expansion neared completion towards the end of last year, Dubai Airports announced more than 400 job vacancies in three divisions, including engineering, aviation and information technology.
Despite the delay in opening phase one of the expansion at Dubai International, the number of passengers travelling via the airport is expected to jump to 33 million by the end of this year, taking the facility's in-take capacity to 75 million passengers every year, but the airport has its concerns.
"Aviation faces a high level of shortage in skilled professional personnel," explains Jamal Zaal Bin Krishan, general manager of general aviation at Dubai Airports.
"According to FAA forecasting there will be an 80% growth in business jet use in the coming 10 years. That would seem to mandate a commensurate growth in the number of pilots... but the net increase of pilots supports only three quarters the growth, even if there is one pilot per aircraft like in Very Light Jets (VLJs)."
Bin Krishan says that the problems go beyond just pilot shortages though. "The shortage in general aviation is observed in different ways, and the most important part is the operation side which involves interaction with the aircraft in terms of flying, maintenance, and handling.
So how is Dubai Airports overcoming the potential recruitment shortage? Bin Krishan reveals that this will be an easier question to answer when Al Maktoum International Airport starts operating, but he remains positive for the future.
"The new airport will offer jobs for skilled people by attracting business to the region and we will have more consideration in terms of consultations and communicating with the general aviation airports once this is operational.
Bin Krishan adds that at this stage the United Arab Emirates in general supports the new aviation academies that are opening to deliver professional manpower to the country.
Abu Dhabi International Airport is currently undergoing an ambitious US$6.8 billion expansion programme, bringing with it new facilities that will cater for over 9 million total passengers by the end of this year and 2.7 million tourists by 2012.
Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), the owner-operator of Abu Dhabi International Airport, has stated that it recognises its responsibility as being the "face" of Abu Dhabi to millions of travellers and tourists per year, but with a 40 million capacity airport that promises to offer some of the world's best retail and hospitality environments, the pressure is on to facilitate all these extra services with trained staff.
To meet with customer and passenger demand, ADAC is investing heavily in its current employees' futures by enrolling them in training schemes run by Airports Council International (ACI).
Courses on offer at global training centres cover all areas of airport facilities including learning IT essentials or understanding the requirements of winter operations and maintenance.
Career-building is also encouraged through the Airport Executive Leadership Programme (AELP) which is aimed at individuals who want to work in airport management at facilities throughout the world.
"We have a training centre in Dubai where we run courses on aviation English, so that aviation professionals can work in today's world without coming up against language barriers," says Linda Johnson, director of the Global Training Hub at the ACI.
"Airport operational safety is also taught at our Dubai centre and for all the courses on offer we are seeing a lot of trainees being sent over from Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The airport is doing a lot of restructuring of its training programme and the trainees that are arriving at our centre are very enthusiastic and well versed in the aviation industry, but are keen to learn more."
Mohammed Al Bulooki, director of marketing and communications at ADAC explains: "As the owner-operator of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain International Airport, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) has a mandate to build and develop the aviation infrastructure of Abu Dhabi into a regional and international aviation hub.
In order to accomplish this and its future expansion plans, staff recruitment and manpower needs remain central considerations to the company's strategy. In recognition of these needs, ADAC is constantly looking at ways to build the recruitment and talent-pool of its future airport employees."
Bahrain International Airport and Bahrain Airport Services (BAS), the company that supplies technical and maintenance support to the airport, is taking a different approach to filling vacancies by searching for fresh talent at the local university.
Bahrain International Airport has emerged as a popular destination for various airlines, after establishing itself as a gateway to the Northern Gulf. In the 12 months to November 2007, the facility received 4,105,365 passengers and with the introduction of the Kingdom's second national carrier, Bahrain Air, traffic figures are set to soar.
Just last month the landing rights of Bahrain International Airport were officially transferred from the government to Bahrain Airport Company, giving the organisation the opportunity to undertake several new expansion projects that will require trained and talented staff.
BAS is already one of the six major employers in the State of Bahrain but in response to the airport's growth and development, the company recently participated in the University of Bahrain's career day.
BAS representatives led by Gopika Beri, acting head of training and development, distributed informational brochures and giveaways to students and job seekers to promote a career with BAS at Bahrain International Airport.
The day was opened by Phil Bowell, chief executive officer of BAS and a short film depicting BAS activities demonstrated the opportunities on offer and publicised available positions such as maintenance engineers and aircraft mechanics.
As Bahrain International Airport has had to cope with increased passenger flow, training of current and established employees has intensified and 60,000 training hours have been achieved every year since 2006 due to participation of staff in local, overseas and inhouse training.
The company provided internship opportunities to 106 students from the university, Bahrain Training Institute and a number of government technical schools in 2007, amounting to 30,000 industrial training hours.
Although airport managers adopt different approaches to the hiring of experienced and qualified experts at the region's airports it is clear that their recruitment and skills strategies are ongoing processes.
Middle East airports may be experiencing a period of unprecedented expansion and growth but building and nurturing the skills of current employees and searching for new talent appears to be firmly entrenched in the training and human resource agendas.
The region's airports as a collective want to provide travellers with smooth and hassle-free access to their regions and all are feeling a duty to leave a lasting impression. As each airport expansion comes on-line only time will tell if the resources are in place to support such huge and rapid growth.
13,000 general flights expected in Dubai in 2008
20% current growth of general aviation flights in Dubai
80% growth in international business jet use in the coming 10 years
40,310 passenger flights to and from the Middle East in May 2008