DAZZLING HIGHS

UAE 2018 | FEDERAL GOVERNMENT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), on opportunities in the sector and GCAA's contributions to the development of aviation in Abu Dhabi.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi
BIOGRAPHY
Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi was appointed Director General of the UAE’s GCAA in April 2008. Prior to joining the GCAA, Al Suwaidi held several senior positions in the UAE Air Force, including his last tour as Director of Air Force Operations. He started his career as pilot in the UAE Air Force and served as Head of Training and Operation at Al Minhad base in Dubai. He was appointed Deputy Director Operations in the UAE Air Force in 2006, and promoted to Director of Operations before being appointed as Director General of the GCAA. Al Suwaidi, who obtained a law degree from Beirut Arab University in Lebanon in 2004, was appointed Chairman of the Arab Civil Aviation Commission Executive Council in May 2010.

How do you assess the aviation industry in the UAE in recent years, and what opportunities remain?

Historically, growth in the UAE has been mostly focused on building capacity in airports and airlines. This has seen UAE national carriers double their seat capacity every few years for the past two decades. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah have made huge investments in upgrading the runways and terminals at their respective airports. In addition to this, GCAA has undertaken an airspace restructuring project to increase the existing capacity in our skies. This multi-phased project will take some time, but we expect it to result in a multifold increase in capacity in the coming years. MROs and general aviation are the areas where I expect to see the most growth in the future. On our part, we are implementing initiatives to stimulate investment, especially in these particular areas. For example, GCAA will be hosting the 2nd Investment in Aviation Summit this year, and we are confident that such endeavors will lead to tangible outcomes in the near future.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both becoming international aviation hubs. What strengths do each have to encourage the sustainable growth of local aviation?
As HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of Emirates, said, “One-third of the world's population, nearly 2 billion people, live within a four-hour flight from Dubai International, and 80% within 12 hours." This is a natural geographic advantage of the UAE. The country's leadership has an ambitious vision to diversify the economy, and the aviation industry is central to any such effort, whether through trade or tourism. Additionally, industry growth is dependent on the quality of infrastructure. The UAE is recognized as having the best road transport infrastructure globally, and the second-best air transport infrastructure. Our open skies policy is yet another catalyst to enhance connectivity and sustainable growth. Together with stakeholders like national airlines, airports, and academic institutions, we are working on stimulating innovation and creativity that we are certain will yield long-term, sustainable results.

With the expansion of airport facilities, air routes, and e-services, what will be the main focus for GCAA to strengthen the sector, and what do you expect in the future?

Some of the current changes in the industry relate to technology, while others are related to the policy environment. Drone technology will most likely create a massive shift in the industry. I expect to see a proliferation of that technology for both non-traditional usage such as surveillance or topography, and traditional aviation services such as the transportation of goods and passengers. GCAA is developing a sound regulatory framework to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve. As for policy issues, we occasionally see a tightening in the market, especially in times of economic downturn. We are determined to maintain open skies in the UAE and promote global liberalization.

After 10 years of operations, what have been the main contributions of GCAA to the development of the industry in the UAE?

In the last 10 years, we have made quantum leaps toward achieving a safe and sound industry. We have worked first and foremost on strengthening our resources both in number and in knowledge. The GCAA created the necessary structures, defined roles and responsibilities, overhauled its regulations, created industry committees, and improved its services to be on par with the best practices in the world. This was attested by the results of the audits we underwent, all of which we passed with flying colors. Furthermore, we have built a strong team of inspectorate staff capable of executing effective oversight and resolving safety issues that is also very customer oriented. This balance between the two hats of enforcer and customer service was very tricky. As such, GCAA has put in place policies and strategies to ensure that neither of the two roles negatively impact the other. We take pride in the excellent relationship we have with stakeholders, which is what has really made the difference.