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Recognising the need for skilled air traffic controllers, mechanics and managers to sustain the growing aviation industry here and worldwide, Emirates Aviation College is offering a slew of courses that covers all requirements in the industry.

The Emirates Aviation College has received licensing and approvals from international bodies, including Edexcel, a UK vocational body.
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Ahmed Hassan is studying to become a tourist guide in Egypt. But what he really wants to do is work in the UAE's thriving aviation industry. "They've got big airports, the airlines are growing and new airports are being built. That means more job chances and more opportunity," the 20-year-old Cairo University student says. When he graduates next year, Mr Hassan may be one of hundreds of expatriates applying to attend one of the region's aviation-related schools that offer vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

He is now looking at Emirates Aviation College's courses for air traffic controllers, which have graduates working at airports in the UAE, around the GCC as well as the Seychelles, Maldives, Kazakhstan and Djibouti. "I think I'd like the challenge," he says. "You may have five or six [aeroplanes] in the air at one time and you have to get them all down safely." A global recession has hurt the aviation industry, with the recent closure of an aircraft maintenance plant in Dublin by SR Technics putting 1,100 jobs in peril. Last year, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise shut down its higher education institution in the emirate before graduating its first class. One official said it faced difficulty "finding and sensing the market".

However, long-term forecasts predict a dire need for more skilled air traffic controllers, mechanics and pilots to sustain the growing fleets of airlines here and worldwide. Data from the world's four largest aircraft makers predict the global fleet to rise by 12,300 new aeroplanes by 2018. That will require 207,600 more pilots, and 405,500 more mechanics over the same period, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Much of the needs will arise in the Middle East, which accounted for nearly a third of new orders at Boeing and Airbus last year.

The UAE has been a magnet for aviation training since 1991, when Emirates Aviation College began serving the needs of Emirates Airline and the region's carriers by training air traffic controllers, mechanics as well as airport and airline managers. This year the school will be part of a surge in academic offerings when it begins a new MBA programme and, separately, a top-ranked US aeronautical university, Embry-Riddle, opens a branch in Al Ain.

Mohammed al Budoor, the senior vice president of the academic wing at Emirates Aviation College, believes the case for aviation training has never been stronger. "I'm a big believer that when there is a crisis, there should be more concentration on education and training and learning," he says. The new programmes will help tackle the growing skills shortage in the Middle East and worldwide. The UAE is becoming a new pole of importance for the global aviation industry, driven by the rapid growth of Emirates Airline and newer arrivals Etihad Airways and Air Arabia. This year, the Dubai Government will launch a new airline, FlyDubai. These carriers are expecting hundreds of new aircraft over the next decade as they make a strategic push to turn the Gulf into a major air travel hub. And when a new aircraft is added to an airline's fleet, it creates dozens of additional jobs to keep it flying and maintained.

Emirates Aviation College has about 2,000 students and is run by Emirates Group, the parent company of Emirates Airline. Mr al Budoor says an important quality of his institution is the chance to do on-the-job training at Emirates Airline and other partner carriers, including Cargolux, Air Arabia and Kuwait Airways. From its Deira campus, not far from Dubai International Airport, the school offers vocational courses such as aerospace engineering and tourism management. In 2004, it began offering bachelor's degrees in aeronautical engineering and air transport management, and also master's degrees in business administration (MBA) in collaboration with Coventry University. Some 200 students enrolled in these programmes.

Its MBA courses cover aviation management, logistics and the supply chain, and candidates usually come from within the industry who are looking to advance themselves. A third programme in information technology management begins this autumn, and highlights the growing need for technology specialists in airline and airport operations. Each 18-month MBA programme costs Dh82,500 (US$22,461), not including living costs, with a 25 per cent discount for Emirates Group employees.

Recognising that aviation jobs are needed worldwide, the Dubai-based institution has received licensing and approvals from international bodies, including Edexcel, a UK vocational body, as well as the British Civil Aviation Authority and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Many go on to work within the UAE, however, and about 50 graduates become mechanics at Emirates Airline each year. Other alumni work at Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies, the Air Force, and the helicopter wing at the Ministry of Interior.

Soon, however, prospective students will have more choices when Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University opens a campus in Al Ain. Mubadala Development Company, an investment arm of the Government, is helping to set up the school and officials say the first classes could be offered in the autumn term. Although it has not announced the fee yet, tuition at other Embry-Riddle's locations may provide a clue. Graduate programmes at its two US campuses cost $14,300 per year in tuition, while at some of its international campuses (primarily at US military bases) graduates pay $4,700 a year. It also offers online degrees, charging $5,160 a year for undergraduates, while graduates pay $2,500 per year.

Regardless of where aspiring aviation workers such as Mr Hassan go, they will have to finance their education themselves because banks in the Emirates do not offer student loans. "We've tried to approach banks in the past. Few co-operated," says Mr al Budoor.