The remarkable development of the aerospace industry in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries is often explained by the financial strength of these oil-rich countries and the government subsidies bestowed on their national carriers. Certainly, financial strength is crucial when it comes to building modern infrastructure, acquiring state-of-the art technology and aircraft, and competing with established airlines. However, the world’s busiest airport, Dubai International, and what is predicted to become the most congested airspace in the world – with 4400 flights per day expected by 2030 – comes as the result of an ambitious vision, long-term strategic planning and holistic economic development of the past 25 years.

Today, the aviation industry constitutes 27% of Dubai’s GDP, accounting for 416,000 jobs. Furthermore, the majority of Dubai's 11.12 million tourists a year use the convenient direct flights of state-owned Emirates Airlines. The logistics sector in Dubai has recorded double-digit growth for more than two decades. These results have encouraged Dubai, the rest of the United Arab Emirates and all neighbouring Gulf Co-operation Council countries to invest a further $450bn until 2030 solely in new aircrafts.


It is estimated that by 2017 there will be 4 billion global air passengers annually, showing that aviation stands for reachability and connectivity, both crucial elements for FDI attraction, and successful economic and social development. Many African countries could use the rising interest of global investors in their economies to follow the example of the GCC countries. The rising number of flights from the Gulf region to Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa prove the potential of, and the existing demand for, safe and direct connections to destinations in Africa.

Due to low fuel prices, the overall trend in the African aerospace industry is positive, and its growth rates of 3% to 5% will lead to further domestic and foreign investment. Given the overall importance of, and growth potential related to, the aerospace sector, the return on investment should not be measured in terms of short-term calculations based on passengers or cargo units. Aside from its commercial success, the UAE is reaching for the stars with its newly announced Mars mission. The sky could be the limit for many African countries if they embed the development of their aerospace sector in a long-term strategy based on a holistic socio-economic vision. 

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME advisor to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. Email: