When the global financial crisis dumped on Dubai with a vengeance in 2009, many believed the emirate's two-decade-long fairytale was coming to a very unhappy ending, with many of the cash-strapped city's glitzy and ambitious developments destined to return, half-built and unwanted, to the desert and waters of the Gulf.
Three years later, Dubai is very much back in business. Although the crisis provided a much-needed correction to the emirate's over-heated property sector, with several developers going bankrupt, the economy has bounced back. Hotel occupancy is returning to pre-downturn levels and the cranes are beginning to move again on construction sites. Dubai certainly does not have the feel of a city on the way down.
Flydubai is one of several new airlines recruiting pilots as fleets ramp up
For the aviation sector, the crisis barely seemed to register, at least on the surface. Traffic has continued to rise for Emirates and Dubai International airport as both hold firm to their global hub and spoke strategy while, at the same time, pulling more high-spending visitors into the city itself. Progress on Dubai World Central - the airport which will eventually displace Dubai International as the gateway to the city - has slowed, but the long-term plans for the facility remain on track. Business aviation's growth was also thrown into reverse, but the UAE, and Dubai in particular, remains the regional nerve-centre for the sector, home to dozens of charter operators, management companies and brokers.
Beyond Dubai, the oil- and gas-rich emirates and kingdoms of Abu Dhabi and Qatar also seemed to side-step the crisis, continuing their efforts to diversify their energy-dependent economies into sectors including aviation and aerospace. In Abu Dhabi, Etihad has become firmly established as one of the region's big three blue-chip carriers, while the emirate's sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, is investing heavily in aerospace. Down the coast in Doha, Qatar Airways has grown its fleet to more than 100 aircraft and a glittering new airport will be opened at the end of this year as the country emulates Dubai's success in becoming a global crossroads.
While the crisis did reveal the fragility of the Gulf states' ambitions - the whole region was affected by the sudden collapse in liquidity and business confidence after 2009 - the region remains prime recruiting territory for aviation professionals, including pilots, cabin crew, maintenance engineers, air traffic controllers and airport managers. Although it does not mean anyone can walk into a plum role, there are still more positions available than there are qualified candidates to fill them.
With governments leaning heavily on employers to provide long-term, high-value careers for young citizens, there is a degree of positive discrimination to ensure locals are not squeezed out of the jobs market. However, with demand way outstripping the supply of trained and experienced nationals, every government accepts that bringing in expats is the price to be paid for economic growth. It comes down to simple maths in the end: most of the Gulf countries have tiny native populations - up to 90% of the jobs, from sweeping the streets to running airlines, are done by foreigners.
Source: Flight International