x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Aerospace a jobs growth industry amid falling employment

The idea of joining a growth industry in today's global economy may seem like wishful thinking.

Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies is growing rapidly and will perform new engine maintenance after signing a deal with General Electric last year.
Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies is growing rapidly and will perform new engine maintenance after signing a deal with General Electric last year.

The idea of joining a growth industry in today's global economy may seem like wishful thinking. But in Abu Dhabi, government-backed firms are planning to create thousands of jobs in aerospace, including high-tech manufacturing and specialised engine maintenance. The focus is to encourage Emiratis to take up blue-collar or highly technical engineering positions. Many companies are being built from scratch and are expected to attract workers of all professions, including accountants and sales and information technology managers.

The plans include an aerospace industrial zone opening in Al Ain late next year, where Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) is wooing European firms to relocate, and a host of projects by Mubadala Development Company, an investment arm of the Government. Mubadala is opening Strata, a manufacturing plant for carbon-fibre aircraft parts in the zone. Ground was broken on the site late last month, and its new chief executive will be Ross Bradley, the former chief executive of the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium. Meanwhile, Mubadala's portfolio of aircraft and engine maintenance companies, including Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies and SR Technics, is expanding and starting joint ventures with Rolls-Royce, General Electric (GE) and other engine makers.

The eventual aim for Mubadala is to design, build and market a business jet from scratch by 2018; a feat that will need new companies to be formed, huge levels of investment and an army of designers, engineers and technicians. Mubadala believes it will create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs over the next decade in aerospace. At Strata, which will use composite materials to build aerostructures for European aircraft makers Airbus and Alenia Aeronautica, among others, the company should have 800 employees by 2014, from technicians to engineering and management.

"What we are doing is 'greenfield'; bringing something entirely new to the economy of Abu Dhabi," says Homaid al Shemmari, the associate director of aerospace at Mubadala. To lay the foundations for this project, Mubadala is telling the nation's youth that aerospace is a rewarding, challenging and exciting career choice, and encouraging them to enrol in science and engineering programs. "We would like to have parents interested in putting their kids through engineering and science degrees to be able to create the pipeline we are looking for in our industry," Mr al Shemmari says.

ADAC officials are also very keen to generate jobs for locals through the new small and medium-sized technology firms that have already agreed to move to Al Ain, including German firms such as Aircraft Electronic Engineering, Aerotech Peissenberg and MT Aerospace. Zeyad al Majed, a senior project adviser at ADAC, says he hopes the zone's tenants would help Emiratis build discipline and competency, but the zone will still be a "commercial environment that does not impose workforce quotas".

Officials also expect jobs will be created in the aircraft and engine maintenance business. Mubadala is behind plans to greatly expand Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT), which is located at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The maintenance firm is growing rapidly and will perform new engine maintenance services after Mubadala signed an alliance with GE at the Paris Air Show last month. It is also starting a joint venture along similar lines with Rolls-Royce, another leading jet engine maker. The ADAT is increasing its staff to service the future fleet of Etihad Airways, which will rise to 150 aircraft by the end of next decade from 50 today.

Mubadala is also planning to service military aircraft and is expected to announce a new Abu Dhabi maintenance business through a recent joint venture with Sikorsky Aerospace Services, based in the US. The ambitious plans are good news for Ali Mallick, who plans to graduate next month from Emirates Aviation College in Dubai with a degree in aerospace engineering. Mr Mallick says the current market for entry level technical and engineering jobs was difficult, but the developments in Abu Dhabi are encouraging him to look at further training.

"This gives more scope for guys like me who grew up here and are trying to join the aviation field," he says. igale@thenational.ae