Lift Off

In an effort to further diversify the economy, Dubai has built an impressive aerospace industry, with ambitions that are literally out of this world.

Dubai has been hard at work over the past few years building a name for itself in the aerospace industry. In 2017, the value of orders at the Dubai Airshow totaled USD114 billion, with low-cost carrier FlyDubai signing USD27 billion for 225 Boeing 737s, and Emirates shelling out just over USD15 billion for 40 new Boeing 787-10 aircraft.

At the core of the industry in Dubai is its Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, founded more than 30 years ago. The company is one of the world’s largest aircraft leasing and financing companies, with six offices worldwide, more than 110 airline customers, and a fleet of approximately 368.

Dubai already hosts one of the world’s largest supercarriers, Emirates. The airline, with a fleet size of 255 and regular additions to its current 143 destinations, consistently ranks among the best airlines in the world. Skytrax ranked Emirates fourth in the world for 2018.
The Emirate’s prestige in hosting international industry events goes well beyond the airshow. Dubai is set to host the World Aviation Safety Summit for two days in December. The event represents the biggest annual meeting of safety leaders in the aviation industry, and acts as the “definitive meeting” for sector exports, according to organizers.

The Emirate also hosts the nation’s largest airport, Dubai International. In July 2018, the government announced it would be spending more than USD23 billion in airports across the country, with a majority of the funds going to airports in Dubai. Dubai International Airport is receiving a USD7.6-billion investment for the expansion of Phase IV, and the Al Maktoum International Airport will receive some USD8 billion for overall development. Combined, the investments are expected to raise annual passenger capacity to 300 million throughout the country.

It can be said that Dubai’s flight ambitions are out of this world, or at least all the way to Mars. In June 2018, an Emirates Cargo plane transported the first fully Arab-built satellite to South Korea, for final testing before its launch in Japan. The KhalifaSat was built entirely in the UAE by Emirati engineers at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center. The remote sensing earth observation satellite will have a mission duration of five years and is expected to be launched before YE2018.

The space program is just one of many ways the country is looking to diversify its economy away from oil. Among other space projects, perhaps the most ambitious is the Mars 2117 project. If executed properly, not only will the UAE be the first Arab country to reach the red planet, a human settlement on Mars will begin construction in 2117.

To further understand the space ambitions of Dubai and the UAE as a whole, TBY recently met with Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, the Director General of the UAE Space Agency, who described how the organization is harnessing international knowledge.

“We are hungry for knowledge and cooperating with international space agencies provides a fantastic overlap,” Al Ahbabi said. “We need to work and engage with people in a practical way. We send people to work with international agencies to be exposed to what other scientists are doing and the best practices. We are active; we have signed over 20 agreements and have established an international advisory committee. We want to receive advice from people from all over the world, each with their own sectorial knowledge, within the space industry.”

Dubai, and the UAE in general, is well on its way to becoming a global leader in the defense industry. The UAE is currently the 14th-largest military spender worldwide but is also working on comprehensively developing the sector locally, building its knowledge base and manufacturing capabilities in order to lower expenditure. The Emirates Defense Industry, based in Abu Dhabi, has approximately 15 subsidiaries throughout the country, some of which produce and export products such as armored vehicles.