The Business Year

H.E. Khalifa Al Zaffin

UAE, UAE, DUBAI - Transport

South of Dubai

Executive Chairman, Dubai Aviation City Corporation (DACC) & Dubai South


Khalifa Al Zaffin is the Executive Chairman of Dubai Aviation City Corporation (DACC), a government of Dubai entity formulated to cement the emirate’s leading position as a logistics and aviation hub. The expansive scope of DACC includes, the management and strategy of Dubai’s twin aviation hub: the Dubai International Airport and world’s largest airport in the making, the Al Maktoum International Airport. The far reaching purview of DACC also includes Dubai South and Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects, the construction arm of the Dubai aviation sector dedicated to developing the infrastructure and enhancing the capacity of airports.
At the forefront of Dubai’s dynamic aviation expansion, he is an eminent leader in the industry. He plays a key role in formulating economic, investment, fiscal policies and strategies in support of the emirate’s overarching aviation vision, with emphasis on planning, execution, and building the region’s first master planned airport city, Dubai South. Prior to his two decades of experience in aviation, he was a Senior Project Engineer at Dubai Aluminum Company Ltd. (DUBAL) and currently serves as board member of the Executive Council for Infrastructure Affairs, Dubai World Trade Center, Cleveland Bridge and Deyaar. He is also Member of the EXPO 2020 Dubai Higher Committee. He is a graduate of Arizona State University and holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and outside his work, he has a broad range of academic, cultural, and public service interests.

“Going digital means increased access to facts and data which are key to good decision-making for any business.“

Starting first with the aviation sector, how is DACC building aviation expertise and driving the sector to new heights?

Our strategy stems from the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai to make Dubai the aviation capital of the world. With this in mind, we are building an aviation ecosystem which include airports, aviation-related businesses, and learning institutions that cater to the needs of all those businesses. Dubai first started with an airport that handled five million passengers, expanding to almost 27 million passengers. General aviation has always been the center of attention within the sector which tends to overlook the key importance of business aviation. This has led us to our decision of exploring the growth potential of this segment considering there are more business aviation operations at Al Maktoum International than in Dubai International Airport and we see them continuously growing. When it comes to aviation-related businesses, there are many types of services that support general aviation such as maintenance, repair, and overhaul services (MROs), which look after the airlines’ needs. Cargo and catering services are included in this segment and we have companies which have now moved to Dubai South, the Emirates Skycargo and Emirates Catering. When DACC first opened for business, we aimed at attracting the world’s major aviation companies and successfully they have set up their business operations here. However, we believe that small and medium enterprises play an essential role in providing a holistic range of services for the aerospace industry. We are building that platform now for them considering their specific needs. All these businesses require talents that have high-level of qualifications and must be internationally certified due to the nature of the industry. We have partnered with the University of South Wales, which has set up their campus here to provide training dedicated only to aviation. In addition, Dubai South now hosts the Dubai Air Show which continues to witness growth. When it kicked off here, it has become the largest air show in size with the highest number of exhibitors and visitors so far and we are building on that success. This year is expected to be the biggest in all aspects. Dubai South as a home for the global aviation industry is essentially focused on providing a complete ecosystem and we are working to enable this ecosystem from multiple approaches.

How is DACC pioneering innovation in the aviation sector?

Going digital is highly important for the sector, however this aspect can be easily seen in the logistics industry. For the aviation sector, the priority is time, which can be addressed by going digital to hasten the processing of paper works and the like. Since the industry is involved in a chain of processes, being digitally-savvy requires that all other counterparts are in the same level and we are leading to that direction where the whole cycle is digitally connected. Moreover, going digital means increase access to facts and data which are key to good decision-making for any business. With the use of advanced digital solutions, we can increase awareness on certain cases, thus leading to a more effective and easier decision-making. Another aspect is tapping innovation and technology to advance Dubai’s aviation ecosystem and we have been working with 3D companies exploring the possibilities of developing spare parts for airplanes. It is exciting to be able to provide orders on time rather than producing and then storing them in warehouses. We are still in the early stage of 3D printing and materials, however, we see this sector expanding to any spare part, whether it is for cars or computers.

How does sustainability factor into this holistic ecosystem?

When sustainability has a business case, then companies begin to consider them as it makes economic sense to invest in it. In the case of DACC, we operate as a fully commercial business and do not depend on the government for our operations. We generate our own income and address our costs which usually go to infrastructure and utilities. In this regard, when operational costs which include water, electricity, or gas are high, it has an impact on the bottom line. To address this, we are taking a lot of measure to generate alternative sources of energy. Dubai South has been investing in solar power generation to save energy while supplying the highest demand as well, rather than depend on gas distribution. Our approach is to show that we can do to our own facilities and then offer the system to others, which creates another good business stream. However, energy is only one aspect of our sustainability efforts and we continue to explore emerging ideas in line with our environmental responsibility agenda. For instance, Dubai South is the first community in the emirate to bring an electric bus model made in Australia and we are experimenting how it can adapt to adverse weather conditions especially during the summer. This is part of a larger plan to connect the whole of Dubai South through a form of light rail or electric bus system. Sustainability in mobility is an integral part of Dubai South’s future and we are doing a lot of studies to move in this direction. Among other areas, a big part of sustainability is the proximity of people from where they live to where they work. We are working on these various aspects, the first is which is a housing system for people working in the logistics industry within the vicinity. It must be close to their work to enable them to use sustainable transport systems including bicycle. For executives, we are building a dedicated residential community on the south side of Dubai South around a golf course. On the north side of the airport, there is another residential development plan and we are inviting developers to come and build as master developers. Currently, we are looking to build 1,400 housing units in the same area to provide people working within Dubai South the opportunity to live close to where they work and save them time from commuting while contributing to environmental sustainability, including their wellness goals as they could spend more time to their health and with their family. Once it is ready, including retail facilities and schools, it will provide a model community with a high level of sustainability. From a food security perspective, we are implementing the latest innovation in modern farming to build one of the largest vertical farms and establish a joint venture for land-based fish farming. These are just some of the plans and initiatives in the pipeline and I must say that there has been a lot of thoughtful consideration which incorporates sustainability when doing the master planning for Dubai South.

What does Dubai South mean for the Emirate, and within that, what is the vision for leveraging the legacy of Expo 2020?

It is of great pride that Expo 2020 is taking place within the city of Dubai South. Right from the start, Dubai South has been fundamentally providing added value to Dubai’s latest global initiative, the Expo 2020 — from the backend planning to ensuring the interconnectedness of all related infrastructure. From a logistics perspective, we are also working to serve the Expo’s perceived needs by ensuring a seamless connection between their warehousing needs and what is taking place here. Once Expo 2020 officially opens to the world, our exhibit terminal can provide a platform to transport people, not to mention the key role of Al Maktoum International Airport for travelers and visitors coming for the Expo. During the event, we are confident that there will be a spillover of visits to include the whole Dubai South for businesses and visitors to witness firsthand what we do here. It is a mutual relationship as the global event serves as a catalyst for the future growth of the city and Dubai South works for the Expo in the same manner. At present, Dubai South is in the process of creating a niche position to deliver some key aspects of Dubai’s ambitious plans and we are taking the legacy of Expo 2020 in a big way. The Emirate of Dubai has its own strategy and we work on our strategies based on how we can complement and contribute to its growth. In terms of aviation, we are building extensively to promote Dubai as a global capital for aviation as we are in the process of building the largest airport in the world. In addition to that is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Aerospace Hub, which provides the platform for many other aspects of aviation to prosper here. In terms of global trade, we are continuing the legacy of Dubai as a central focus point by further enhancing the logistics sector as a world-class system enabling emerging businesses to tap into the emirate’s opportunities, as well as the UAE, the region and other neighboring regions, especially with the unprecedented growth of e-commerce in the region. We are proactively gaining ground as a global e-commerce hub, having brought Amazon for instance within Dubai South. Among other developments, technology is at the heart of our initiatives aimed at enhancing efficiency in various services. We are confident that all the activities that will transpire during Expo 2020 will bring the biggest benefits to the growth of Dubai South, being a futuristic community that will place Dubai even more visible as among the best and most sustainable places in the world to visit, work, and live.



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