Want the benefits of being part of the UAE's aviation revolution without the downside of living in Abu Dhabi or Dubai - the traffic and high rents? The answer might be a job in one of the country's lesser-known cities, where accommodation is cheaper and the lifestyle generally more sedate.

One of these is Al Ain, part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but about 90min drive into the desert from the UAE capital. Abu Dhabi's state-owned investment house Mubadala and ADAC, its airports operator, are transforming the oasis settlement into a centre for aerospace, based around its airport. Mubadala subsidiaries Horizon Flight Academy and Strata, an aerostructures assembly facility that began production last year, are based there and ADAC's strategy includes attracting other providers to form an "aerospace cluster".

Other options are the smaller northern emirates - Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah - which, along with Abu Dhabi and Dubai, make up the UAE federation. Of these, Sharjah (home to low-cost carrier Air Arabia), Ras Al Khaimah (where small local airline RAK Airways has just been relaunched) and Fujairah have airports and aviation strategies built around them.

MECG P17 fujeirah9 
 ©Fujairah International Airport
Fujairah International Airport's main business is freight and maintenance

Fujairah is the only emirate on the UAE's east coast and is strategically important because the nation's oil can be pumped to tankers in the Gulf of Oman, avoiding the sensitive bottleneck of the Strait of Hormuz. Separated from the other emirates by mountains, the port of Fujairah has a remote, frontier feel, although a new highway will soon almost halve the driving distance to Dubai to just 77km.

Although the emirate has no flag-carrier airline or scheduled flights, aviation is a crucial element of its economic vision, along with the fast-growing deepwater harbour, a free zone and a burgeoning tourism sector. The main business of Fujairah International Airport is freight and maintenance, with the several Antonov and Ilyushin freighters on view testament to the fact that many Russian cargo operators use it as a transit hub linked to the giant Jebel Ali seaport in Dubai. A flight school is also located there, and a facility for dismantling old aircraft.

As part of an investment of several tens of millions of dollars, the airport is opening a new cargo warehouse, air traffic control tower and maintenance workshops. It also wants to attract a high-profile maintenance house focused on Western types and is negotiating with potential partners to run a fixed-base operation for business aviation customers. The expansion is likely to mean large numbers of managers and other professionals will be needed.

An open skies policy and the fog-free climate of the UAE's east coast add to the airport's appeal as a diversion or satellite for the region's other carriers, says strategy and business development manager Charles Hajdu, a Briton who recently moved to Fujairah. The airport is quite content to benefit from the bigger ambitions of its neighbours, rather than try to compete. "We succeed on the success of Dubai and Abu Dhabi," says Hajdu.

Source: Flight International