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Dubai 2007: Preparing to fly

Several organisations are rushing to meet the urgent – and growing – demands for pilots and other aviation professionals in the Middle East and Asia

The cramped open-plan office at Dubai’s Higher College of Technology may not look much like an august learning institution in its own right. But it is from here that Dubai Aerospace Enterprise University plans to expand from its current crop of 21 bachelors students and 37 staff to become one of the world’s leading aviation academies by early next decade.

DAE University – one of the would-be aerospace giant’s six divisions – opened its doors to its first students two months ago. Its initial four-year course in aviation business, which includes a final year training to be an airline pilot, is being taught at the current facilities until a purpose-built campus opens at Dubai World Central around 2011.

 © Emirates-CAE Flight Training
This Hawker 800 device is a new addition to Emirates-CAE Flight Training's offering in Dubai

The university, which will eventually offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in subjects such as aerospace engineering, maintenance, air traffic control, global logistics and business administration as well as airline pilot training, is the most ambitious – but by no means only – initiative aimed at filling the pressing need for pilots, managers and other aviation professionals in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Overseas flying schools will be making their presence felt at the Dubai air show, as they strive to win business from airlines and business aviation operators in the region whose traditional supply of expatriate pilots is drying up and want to recruit home-grown (cheaper) ones. Maintenance organisations and airports are in a similar position – the huge gap between demand for professionals and supply from the local market is creating a bonanza for those who can supply the bodies and the brains.

Australian Matt Clarke is a pilot for VIP charter operator Royal Jet in Abu Dhabi. But he has bigger ambitions. Along with local investors, and the Gold Coast-based Australian Wings Academy, his company Peregrine Aviation plans to launch the Dubai-based National Aviation College in the first quarter of 2008, with the aim of eventually qualifying 1,000 new airline pilots a year with a multi-crew pilot licence (MPL) from several locations in the wider region.

“There is so much demand here,” says Clarke, who plans to pitch the college at “emerging airlines” rather than the more established carriers, which tend to have their own training programmes in place. Based on around 170h in a single-engined aircraft, and up to 40 more in a twin, followed by 70h in a simulator, the college hopes to turn cadets who have never set foot in a flightdeck into “jet ready” first officers in 48 weeks.

Aviation Australia is another Australian organisation hoping to tap into the skills shortage in the Gulf. The business – founded by the Queensland government in 2001 to address the local need for engineering apprentices at Boeing Australia and Qantas Engineering – has won a contract from Abu Dhabi flag carrier Etihad to train 16 Emiratis for a diploma of aircraft maintenance engineering in Brisbane.

It marks another step into the overseas market for the state-run company, which has contracts to provide European Aviation Safety Agency-approved Part 147 training with Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Gamco and Gulf Air.

“The Middle East is the single biggest focus for us,” says general manager of business development Dean Minchington. “There isn’t an airline that we don’t have a relationship with. We are right on the cusp of some significant business there.”

UK training school Cabair and Fujairah Aviation Academy teamed this year to launch an air transport pilot licence course in Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates, which aims to produce 40 to 60 graduates in its first year, using a replica of the syllabus Cabair offers in the UK and Valencia, Spain.

Improved offering

Although plans to qualify the first trainees this year have stalled because of delays in achieving government approval for the course, Cabair chief executive Steve Read is “looking forward to operating” in the new year.

The major simulator training centre in the Gulf is improving its offering to the region’s increasing pool of business aviation operators, as they struggle to find type-qualified pilots. Emirates-CAE Flight Training (ECFT), a joint venture between the airline and the Canadian manufacturer, is to add a Bombardier Global Express and a Hawker 800 Xpi full-flight simulator at its Dubai site. It joins a Gulfstream IV and V/550, a Hawker 800/800XP on the business aviation side.

ECFT also provides two Airbus A320 simulators, which double as Airbus Corporate Jets, and two Boeing 737s/Boeing Business Jets. An Airbus A330/A340, a Boeing 777 and a Bell 412 make up the range.

New chief executive Walter Visser says business aviation type training has been the fastest-growing segment of ECFT’s business over the past two years.

“The market has been asking for it in the Middle East and Europe. India has been a lot of focus too because the market is booming there.” ECFT’s location is one of its biggest assets, he says. “Most training of this sort used to be done in the USA. But here we have a more convenient location for a lot of customers, and very pleasant, secure surroundings.”

Back in his small office at its temporary site, DAE University chief executive George Ebbs, former head of Embry-Riddle aeronautical university in the USA, is spelling out his vision for the institution.

The plan is to have up to 3,000 students by 2015, with about 600 graduating each year (Embry-Riddle, by contrast, has about 5,600 students), and three faculties, each headed by a dean.

As well as graduate and postgraduate courses, the university will provide part-time vocational training, as well as executive education through seminars and short courses.

A flight school will open in February in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, where the more isolated airport offers plenty opportunity for student flying, with the aim of producing 400 qualified air transport pilots licence holders each year.

Ebbs is in no doubt that, while DAE University may end up with all the trappings of an academic institution, its purpose is out-and-out business.

“We have a very patient gameplan, but ultimately it is about providing trained talent much cheaper than sending those people abroad or importing expats,” he says. “Because we have no history, we can think differently.

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