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Friday, January 18, 2019

UAE infrastructure envied by the world

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock

The outspoken American business magnate turned presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has admitted that he is “jealous” of the UAE’s achievements - and, particularly of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then we Emiratis should be flattered; he is building a Burj Al Arab hotel look alike in Baku.

My homelands stunning futuristic architecture, that has smashed so many creative glass ceilings in terms of design, shape and technology, leaves UAE’s watchers waiting to see what could possibly come next. We not only have unique skylines featured in Hollywood blockbusters, such as ‘Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol’, ‘Fast and Furious’, ‘Syriana’ and ‘Star Wars’, but also an infrastructure without parallel anywhere on the planet.

The government has worked solidly to ease lives and provide a foundation for the country’s economic health with an amazing array of multi-lane highways, complemented by bridges and tunnels to ensure traffic flow. Getting around for people without a car has never been this easy. Public transportation, which hardly existed at all 30 years ago, today includes buses, airport limousines and clean, affordable air-conditioned taxis.

Dubai’s residents have the added choice of a fully-automated metro, certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest; a 14.5 km. tram system – or for those who enjoy a more scenic route to their destination, there are traditional inexpensive abras as well as luxurious air-conditioned water taxis, water buses and ferries.

High on Dubai’s portfolio of the world’s most ambitious projects is the Dubai Water Canal currently under construction. This waterway, designed to connect Business Bay with Safa Park before flowing onwards into the Arabian Gulf, is a major attraction for local and international investors. Much more than a canal, it is set to be a lifestyle hub flanked by five star hotels, luxury residences, malls, stores, restaurants, cafes, walkways and cycling paths. And moreover, its marine transit points will eventually facilitate transport to the various manmade islands. I am such a believer in its potential that I have invested billions to construct Al Habtoor City on its banks, featuring three top-branded hotels (St. Regis, Westin and W Hotel), three residential towers, the first permanent water show in the MENA region and Europe, a yacht marina and multiple entertainment venues, restaurants and cafés.

The UAE’s phenomenal growth has necessitated new airports and the expansion of the award-winning existing ones. Last year, the country’s major airports in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah together handled close to 100 million passengers and the numbers are soaring year-upon-year.

National carriers, Etihad and Emirates, both have vast networks of routes; Etihad, that was established just 12 years ago, now travels to 120 destinations on six continents. Emirates, which flies to 144 destinations and whose aviation awards are too numerous to list, is the largest airline in the Middle East region and the fourth largest in the world in terms of passengers.

Emirates and Etihad have become so successful that they are beginning to scare their international competitors. US airlines have complained they have an unfair advantage due to government subsidies, which both carriers deny. Emirates’ Chief Executive Sir Tim Clark told the BBC that these unfair accusations have been made “because competitors can not believe” Emirates “is doing so well without cheating.”

For the budget-minded, the UAE has value-for-money, low-cost airlines such as FlyDubai and Air Arabia. FlyDubai, launched in 2008, operates out of Dubai to 94 destinations and offers a business class on some routes. The Middle East’s first low-cost carrier Air Arabia, established by the Ruler of Sharjah in 2003, was earlier this year named the ‘Best Low-Cost Airline in the Middle East’ by passengers surveyed by the UK-based air transport consultancy Skytrax.

Like the nation’s airports, considered regional and international passenger and air cargo hubs, its ports have received a number of coveted accolades. Some 61 per cent of all cargo destined for GCC member states is handled by the UAE’s ports, two of which appear high on the list of the World Shipping Council’s top 50 container ports.

Abu Dhabi unveiled its new AED 26.5 billion cargo port ‘Khalifa Port’ and industrial zone in 2012 with a handling capacity of two million 20- foot containers and 35 million tons of general cargo annually. Dubai’s Port Rashid and Jebel Ali ports are two of the UAE’s core dynamos fuelling trade and exports.

Jebel Ali, the region’s busiest, gave birth to Jebel Ali Village initially conceived to house the port’s employees, and inspired Jebel Ali Free Zone, the world’s largest, offering businesses office accommodation, warehouses, showrooms, business centres and hotels. Adjacent to Port Rashid is Dubai Drydocks, conceived by the Father of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum against the objections of his British advisers who thought it would be an expensive white elephant. But this exceptional man of vision forged ahead with his plans to provide primarily oil tankers with a large repair facility.

The same negative choruses were heard decrying Dubai’s 33-storey World Trade Centre and Jebel Ali Port during an era when Dubai was still years away from making its mark on the map. Dubai’s prominent merchant families whispered in the ears of his sons to persuade him against such grandiose, expensive projects, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid reveals in his autobiography.

Sheikh Rashid believed that if you build it, they will come – and they did in their millions. That philosophy has been embraced by Sheikh Mohammed who has boldly striven to give a signature of excellence to Dubai and the entire United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi knows the importance of investing in a strong, ‘concrete’ infrastructure as one of the economy’s prime pillars and has a raft of ambitious projects in the pipeline, such as a metro and an exciting railway linking Abu Dhabi with Dubai and the northern emirates, as well as major ports and gas fields.

To quote a lady that I very much admired, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “You and I come by road and rail but economists travel on infrastructure.” Never has a truer word been said! Build it and they will come bringing with them investment, jobs and new beginnings.

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