FARNBOROUGH // Abu Dhabi's efforts to become a major global capital by 2030 took a major step forward yesterday with a US$43 billion (Dh157.94bn) fleet expansion plan announced by Etihad Airways. Deals with Boeing and Airbus for as many as 205 aircraft during the next two decades represent one of the largest civil aviation orders in history. The purchases will upgrade Etihad from an airline launched just four years ago into one of the biggest in the world - and help transform Abu Dhabi along the way.
The effects of the Etihad order are expected to spread throughout the emirate's economy, creating new industries and companies in the aerospace sector and bringing tourists from increasingly far flung regions of the world. A study by the Oxford Business Group, commissioned by Etihad, found that the airline would have a direct influence on the creation of more than 10,000 jobs in the UAE during the next 10 years.
The order "reflects the strength and pace of economic growth in the emirate and the integral role Etihad will play in Abu Dhabi's future", James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, said yesterday at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK. A successful expansion of Etihad is one key to realising the ambitious goals that the emirate's leadership has set: tripling the population by 2030 and the number of tourists by 2015, and increasing the size of its economy by 13 per cent a year by 2010, to Dh584bn.
The push to bring in foreign investment and tourism dollars began only recently. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the Tourism Development & Investment Company were started between 2004 and 2005. A Department of Transport was formed in 2006, while the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, a master blueprint covering everything from new roads and transport systems to new property developments, was issued last year.
Mr Hogan said the success of Etihad Airways would be an important element in these plans. The rapid ascent of Etihad is part of a widening shift in the balance of power among the world's airlines. Gulf carriers have prospered by directing traffic from European and Asian carriers, thanks to ideal locations, lower cost bases and the oil boom. While Emirates airline is the largest, it is being pursued hotly by Etihad and Qatar Airways, and smaller budget carriers have also thrived. Mr Hogan called the Middle East a "natural air bridge between East and West" that offered the fastest links for passengers and cargo.
As Etihad grows, it is expected to stimulate an emerging aerospace hub in the emirate. A free-zone cluster is planned around Abu Dhabi International Airport, which will see $6.8bn in investments including a brand new terminal that will be four times larger than the current facilities. Mubadala, an investment vehicle of the Abu Dhabi Government, has identified aerospace as a key element of its mandate to diversify the emirate's economy away from relying on oil and petrochemicals. It has already signed co-operation agreements with most of the world's biggest aerospace firms, from Northrop Grumman to EADS, to look for ways to make Abu Dhabi a manufacturing and development centre.
With numerous Abu Dhabi delegations attending the Farnborough Air Show, its starring role in the global aviation industry is expected to be a developing story throughout the week. Other major announcements are expected from Mubadala, Rolls-Royce, Abu Dhabi Aircraft Company and Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies, the airports operator and aircraft maintenance firms. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org