Aviation sector can boost UAE economy

The development of Ailerons in the UAE that will be fitted to A330s is a symbolic step forward for the the country's knowledge economy.

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The UAE has made major strides in the aviation industry, and its two main airlines, Etihad and Emirates, have aggressively expanded their footprint across the globe. The pace of progress and achievements in this sector - from commercial and cargo operations to manufacturing and servicing - will only accelerate. The latest evidence of this evolution came this week.

As The National reported, an Al Ain-based factory has delivered the first of four fully assembled ailerons to Airbus's factory in Bremen, Germany. Forged at Strata Manufacturing, the UAE-made components will be fitted to an A330 set to be delivered to Etihad Airways in May.

The ailerons - the moveable surfaces on the wing's trailing edge that are used to turn or adjust the aircraft's altitude - are the first of their kind developed by a UAE firm. Strata's chief executive, Badr Al Olama, said that his company is aiming much higher than four flaps. "One day," he said, "when a jet airliner flies over, any jet airliner, I want everyone in our workforce to be able to look up and say, 'I helped build that'."

Under its current contract Strata will deliver 30 sets of ailerons by the end of the year, and be capable of delivering 60 a year by the end of 2014. Mr Al Olama's ambition is welcome and serves as a metaphor for the country's long-term growth.

Creating a viable aviation sector and providing the global market with competitive products and services are cornerstones of the UAE's effort to diversify away from oil and reach its targets of sustainability. To do so, however, this sector - and others - will need to grow beyond parts and components for high-tech machines and pour resources, people and cash into the front end of the design process - research and development. For a small nation like the UAE, R&D has far greater earning potential than factories ever will.

Economic growth is closely connected to technological development. Historically, however, the Middle East has lagged far behind other regions in R&D spending. Thankfully, that is changing in local markets. For instance, between 2009 and 2018, the Abu Dhabi Education Council expects to spend at least Dh1.3 billion in building research labs in the nation's universities.

To build a truly high-flying, diversified economy, more pledges like this one will be essential in the years ahead.