Aviation and tourism to contribute $128bn to UAE's GDP by 2037

Trade body IATA says sector will support 1.4 million jobs over the next 20 years

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - October 08, 2019: Muhammad Ali Albakri, Regional Vice President Africa & the Middle East, IATA at the IATA innovation forum. Tuesday the 8th of October 2019. Etihad Aviation Training Academy, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The aviation industry could contribute $128 billion (Dh470bn) to the UAE's economy by 2037, up from $47.4 billion currently if authorities continue to prioritise the industry's importance, the International Air Transport Association has said.

The trade body is forecasting a 170 per cent growth in aviation during the period, and said that within the same time frame the industry could end up supporting 1.4 million jobs, up from 800,000 currently.

“Government policy supporting the development of aviation has paid great dividends,” said Muhammad Albakri, Africa and Middle East vice-president for IATA at its Innovation Forum for the Gulf and Near East in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

“Today, the UAE is ranked number one globally for air trade facilitation, tops the Middle East region for visa openness, is an aviation powerhouse and its airlines carry the country’s flag to all corners of the globe,” Mr Albakri said, adding that its current contribution stands at 13.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

However, he warned that in order to maintain its competitiveness, authorities should focus on increasing air space capacity to ease congestion and invest in boosting airport infrastructure. Implementation of new technology is also essential for the sector's growth, he said.

The UAE is home to four major airlines - Emirates, Etihad, Flydubai and Air Arabia - and the government has been spending billions of dollars in boosting airport infrastructure, including the construction of the new Midfield Terminal in Abu Dhabi as well as the expansion of the $36bn Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.

The number of people travelling to the UAE has also been growing over the years. According to IATA data, Asia-Pacific is the largest market for passenger flows to and from the UAE, followed by Europe and the Middle East. The data also showed 12.9 million passengers arrived in the UAE from Asia-Pacific, representing 44.8 per cent of total, followed by 6.2m from Europe and 6m passengers from the Middle East. The five busiest countries in terms arrivals from direct flights are India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the UK and Oman.

In a global market forecast published last month, plane maker Airbus said that air traffic had more than doubled since 2000. It predicted that traffic would continue to grow at a rate of 4.3 per cent a year, meaning that the global passenger and freighter aircraft fleet would need to more than double to 48,000 by 2038, up from 23,000 currently.

This would result in a need for 550,000 new pilots and 640,000 new technicians, despite the current economic slowdown.

“The 4 per cent annual growth reflects the resilient nature of aviation, weathering short-term economic shocks and geopolitical disturbances,” said Christian Scherer, Airbus chief commercial officer and head of Airbus International.