Friday, December 2, 2011

The UAE 40th National Day

I arrived to the UAE in May 1996 in time for the 25th National Day of the UAE; to join GAMCO.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the country. I came at the time the Abu Dhabi - Dubai road was not yet completed. Jumeirah was not built and the old Hard Rock Cafe was literally in the middle of nowhere.

The aviation scene had two major national players Emirates Airlines and GAMCO (now ADAT) and Gulf Air was the airline of Abu Dhabi. In 1996 Emirates had a fleet of 18 Airbus A310/A300-600 and the delivery of the 7  Boeing B777 order just started in the Spring of that year. GAMCO was practically the maintenance facility of Gulf Air (GF had a 40% share of GAMCO at the time) with less than 30% of its work performed for other airlines.

Aviation has come a long way in the last 15 years; Emirates is a Global airline with a fleet of  160+ aircraft and orders in excess of 210 aircraft and Dubai International Airport is poised to become the number 2 airport in the world, and definitely the most connected airport with more than 120 airlines serving it.

I was fortunate and privileged to be a part of this success story and was directly involved with GAMCO and by extension with Etihad Airways and Air Arabia in one capacity or another.

I was with GAMCO at the time Gulf Air started facing financial difficulties in 1997 and the decision was made to decrease the reliance on GF business in favour of third party work. In 1997 GAMCO won a 5 years contract to maintain the UK RAF fleet of 9 Lockheed L1011s which was subsequently renewed in 2002. Several other European, North American and regional airlines had long term contracts for the maintenance of their fleets. GAMCO was instrumental in the launching of  Etihad Airways in 2003; Etihad  has become an airline with Global reach. The Etihad fleet maintenance is currently managed and performed by ADAT.

Air Arabia the first LCC of the region was also launched in October 2003 a month before Etihad with GAMCO providing maintenance support. Air Arabia is a true success story pioneering a concept in a region used to full service airlines. I joined when Air Arabia had 5 Airbus A320s and left 4 years later when they had 16 aircraft and an order of another 44 A320 aircraft. The challenge facing everyone was to sustain profitable growth and in 2007 Air Arabia launched a successful IPO for 700 million USD which was 1.5 times oversubscribed to become the first airline in the region to go public, it is listed in the Dubai Financial Market.

Of course there are other success stories like Flydubai, DAE, Strata, Sanad and Amroc to name a few.

Congratulations to the UAE, a progressive, tolerant and forward thinking country in a turbulent region.

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