Fledgling careers take flight at Gulf Aviation Academy
On-board fires and water landings are all in a day's work for trainees striving to become part of the Middle East aviation boom led by internationally recognised brands such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.
At the Gulf Aviation Academy (GAA) in Muharraq, Bahrain, the summer's blistering heat failed to thwart would-be airline cabin crew from being put through their paces.
The rapid rise of the region's carriers is creating huge demand for skilled personnel, which in turn has led to a mini-boom in training institutes such as the GAA.
This month the academy celebrates its first anniversary. Another outfit established last year was the Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies in Abu Dhabi. They join other established firms such as Emirates Aviation Academy, a unit of Emirates Airline, as well as an Emirates partnership with CAE, the Canadian flight simulator firm.
In Ras Al Khaimah, Spatial Composites has logged major orders from Oman Air, Emirates, Etihad and Virgin America for specialised aircraft replicas for training purposes.
"There is a significant market out there and GAA is embarking on an expansion plan," said Tim Shattock, the chief executive of the training firm, which is located next to Bahrain International Airport.
The company has signed training deals with the kingdom's two airlines, Bahrain Air and Gulf Air, as well as carriers and aviation companies in Sri Lanka and seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.
In its most recent current market outlook in May, the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing said Middle East airlines would grow their fleets by an estimated 2,340 aircraft, worth US$390 billion (Dh1.43 trillion), by 2029, to serve growing demand in the region. Already, the region's big three carriers - Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad - have more than $110bn worth of aircraft on order.
Boeing also believes Middle Eastern air travel will grow by an average of 7.1 per cent a year over the next 20 years, faster than the region's projected economic growth rate of 4 per cent a year over the same period.
"Middle East airlines have consistently led the rest of the world in traffic growth over the past two years and there is every indication that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future," said Randy Tinseth, the vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
In addition, that fleet growth will require another 32,700 trained pilots and 44,500 technicians. "While airlines are set to grow at a remarkable pace, the demand for trained personnel is set to match fleet expansion. With almost half the population below the age of 25, the region has the right demographic to fulfil human resource demands," he said.
GAA has invested $45 million in four flight simulators for three aircraft types: the Airbus A320, the Airbus A330/A340, and the Embraer 170/190. It also plans to add two more simulators next year, Mr Shattock said.
The organisation is partnering other Bahraini organisations to sponsor 100 Bahraini nationals to begin primary flight training, which is the first step towards become a certified pilot. The process can take up to 19 months.
The programme "is enabling Bahrainis who may have dreamt of this career to get their foot on to the ladder in this fast-paced, exciting industry and achieve their aspirations", Mr Shattock said.
While GAA's operations and recruitment of international students encountered "challenges" during the civil unrest, "normality" has since resumed, he said. "We had no effect on our customers," he added.
Updated: August 19, 2011 04:00 AM