These days, John Ellis spends much of his life on aeroplanes. As chief executive - and sole employee - of one of the industry's youngest trade associations, Ellis is helping companies take the plunge into one of its fastest growing markets.

Since the Middle East Aerospace Consortium was launched at November's Dubai air show to represent businesses based in and moving into the region, Ellis has been shuttling between meetings in Europe and the Gulf recruiting members, putting companies in touch with each other and dispensing advice. Seventy businesses have joined MEAC already and Ellis hopes to have 100 under his wing by Farnborough in July.

For over a decade the rampant growth of the Gulf's airlines and its defence budgets has seen the region emerge as a key market for civil and military aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers. More recently, the Middle East has become a hub of business aviation.

Now its rulers are determined to establish local aerospace industries to bring training, maintenance and even manufacturing investment into the region, and provide high-value careers for their young citizens. The past years have seen a surge in Western companies moving into the Gulf to support the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.


Until now, the bulk have been bigger industry names. But attempts by Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and others to create indigenous aerospace supply chains and service infrastructures have meant they are keen to encourage smaller aerospace and aviation businesses to establish a presence, too.

According to Ellis, MEAC's role is to assist businesses relocating to the region by putting them in touch with national agencies as well as potential partners, suppliers and customers. Companies pay a fixed fee for a range of services and, although MEAC cannot perform extensive consultancy for individual members, Ellis will help where he can or put them in touch with another member that provides specialist advice, whether it is in employment law, finding accommodation or negotiating a contract with a government department.

"We want to be a giant networking association," says Ellis, a 25-year industry veteran whose previous ventures have included a consultancy for air disaster analysis and training and a website advertising aviation jobs. "The more the membership rises in a controlled way, the more effective we become. Already we have members who are working with companies they'd never heard of. We were the catalyst."

MEAC's members include airlines, maintenance, repair and overhaul companies, manufacturers and airport operators as well as consultancies and other specialist services providers. The organisation represents the whole of the region rather than individual countries, although Ellis works mostly with the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The neutral stance is a positive: "Often companies will come to us knowing they should be in the Middle East, but not exactly where."


Among the projects MEAC is involved in is the new industrial cluster in Abu Dhabi's second city, Al Ain, centrepiece of which is the Strata aerostructures plant being constructed by Abu Dhabi investment house Mubadala, and to where small and medium-size suppliers are being urged to relocate. MEAC in early March held its first Aerospace Manufacturing conference in Al Ain, which 90 delegates attended.

Ellis is also excited about the potential of Dubai World Central, the huge development planned around the emirate's new international airport. Despite Dubai's recent financial problems, he believes the complex will prove attractive to MRO firms in particular. He says there are also "fantastic opportunities" in Saudi Arabia and in tiny Qatar, which given its wealth and ambitions will not "be too far behind what is happening in Abu Dhabi".

Another role MEAC will play is helping young professionals from the Middle East secure internships with Western aerospace companies. "We see ourselves working closely with the governments as a bridge to provide placements in the UK and elsewhere to give their citizens the experience they need," he says.

Ellis believes that as the only industry body dedicated to the Middle East across all sectors of aviation and aerospace, demand for its services will be substantial as more businesses establish footholds in the region. "We have the opportunity to grow MEAC into one of the biggest trade associations in the world," he says.

Source: Flight International