Mideast training demand relentless

Dubai Air Show » 2007
November 8, 2007, 2:15 AM

The boom in air travel throughout the Middle East and beyond has certainly reaped economic rewards, but not without a significant amount of growing pain, particularly in countries where the existing infrastructure can barely support today’s level of traffic. Thankfully for Dubai and many other Gulf states, a wealth of investment resources helps conquer virtually any building challenge the rulers choose to confront. But while a seemingly limitless supply of itinerant labor from developing countries can pour runway concrete and lay electrical lines, it takes years of education and training to develop an airline or business jet pilot–a human commodity still in short supply throughout the Middle East and, increasingly, the world.

According to Alteon, Boeing’s wholly owned flight training subsidiary (Stand C510/610), the airline industry alone will need 17,000 new pilots each year until 2024. Faced with such a global drain on flight crew resources, carriers from this region quickly recognized the need to not only foster local flight crew talent, but to build enough training capacity of their own to accommodate the vast number of expatriate pilots needed to maintain their explosive growth.

One of the first Western training providers to seize a piece of the opportunity in the Gulf region–Canada’s CAE (Stand W12)– signed a 10-year contract with the Emirates Group in 2001 to jointly operate the 14-bay Emirates-CAE Training center in Dubai. The facility now houses 10 full-flight simulators for training airline, business jet and helicopter pilots. The latest planned additions–a CAE 7000 Series Bombardier Global Express simulator and a Series 5000 Hawker Beechcraft Hawker 800 machine–are to arrive at the center in the second half of 2009 under a contract signed in late September.

With the opening of the CAE-Emirates center, the Canadian company’s commitment to the region became immediately palpable and soon reaped monetary rewards through contracts with other carriers. Airline customers include Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Royal Brunei, India’s Kingfisher Airlines and Spice Jet and Sharjah-based low-fare carrier Air Arabia. Business jet clients include Jet Aviation, Arabasco and National Air Services.

Regional Jets On Tap?
According to CAE civil training and services group president Jeff Roberts, the center in Dubai will likely train more than 20,000 individuals this year alone. “From our standpoint, the region continues to be exceptionally robust,” said Roberts. “We’ve seen tremendous growth, pretty much in all segments. Specifically, the airlines and the commercial segment continue to grow, the business aviation community continues to grow and we’re now starting to see the advent of some low-cost carriers in the commercial segment. That’s interesting and intriguing to us…and I don’t think we’re too far from seeing some regional jets moving into the area in a material way.”

Advertised as and increasingly in reality a global transit hub, Dubai has proved to be an ideal location for a training center, said Roberts. It draws airline trainees from not only the local area, but from Africa and India and, more often in the case of business jet pilots, Europe. Of course, the growth of business aviation in the Middle East alone has created enough demand to keep not only CAE’s business jet simulators occupied nonstop, but FlightSafety International facilities at Paris LeBourget and Farnborough in the UK populated with their share of pilots hired by Middle Eastern operators.

Although Roberts sees no shortage of Middle East business for CAE into the foreseeable future, the airlines in the region have increasingly moved toward supplying their own training capacity. Emirates-CAE Training client Etihad Airlines just this past May took delivery of its first A330 and A340 simulators from CAE for a new training academy in Abu Dhabi. In fact, Emirates itself recently invested almost $20 million to expand its crew training facility at the Emirates Training Centre, where, along with a pair of A380 simulators, it plans to install a new 777-300ER machine from CAE next May.

Less than a year later Qatar Airways plans to inaugurate a brand-new training academy at the new Doha International Airport in Qatar, scheduled for opening in 2009. Qatar ordered three Thales-made simulators–an Airbus A320, an A330 and Boeing 777–during June’s Paris Air Show.

“The industry has segmented in a significant way and everybody’s got their version of how they’re going to be successful and create value from their business model,” said Roberts. “So does that mean that we may sell them products and that would be
the extent of our relationship? Maybe. Does that mean we can sell them products and then provide maintenance and engineering support? Maybe. Does it mean we can potentially provide courseware or content or do regulatory compliance or do instructor training or do pilot training or do maintenance training? All of those things are possibilities.”

But as the training infrastructure in the Gulf region appears well on its way toward a respectable level of development, suppliers will need to look in and around other parts of the Middle East for ground-floor opportunities like the one CAE seized in 2001 with Emirates. Alteon’s initial bid for a presence in the region took the form of a joint venture with Royal Air Maroc in Casablanca called CasaAero, where RAM pilots train on a pair of Boeing 737 sims. But perhaps the most fertile ground lies to the east, just across the Arabian Sea.

Big Plans for India
“We’ve been actively researching location opportunities and partnering opportunities [in India],” Alteon vice president of marketing Marsha Bell told AIN. Now operating 25 facilities around the world, Alteon recently began implementing a strategic change in direction, consolidating capacity in the U.S. and expanding into developing regions. It recently committed to installing a 737NG and a 777 simulator at Air India’s facilities in Mumbai. Under the terms of the contract, Alteon would operate and maintain the devices and make them available to other airlines in the region.

“It’s kind of a work in process, as so many things in India can be,” said Bell, referring to prospective contracts with other airlines. “We’re not at that point with the [existing] Air-India-owned devices, but with the two devices we’re installing, that’s what we’ll be doing.”

Meanwhile, Alteon continues preparations to open its own facility in India. “We would love to see it happen within the next 12 months,” said Bell. “And it’s just a matter of getting all the paperwork done and turning the dirt, as they say.”

CAE appears even farther along, judging by Roberts’ six-month estimate for the opening of a new training center in Bangalore. The CAE executive said he had reached the final stages of the selection process for a local partner, the identity of which he hadn’t quite pinned down. “I’m not necessarily sure it will be an airline,” he said. “I don’t know who it will be because we’re not through that process, but my sense is that it’s probably wise to have a local partner and I’ll leave it at that.”

The company has also agreed in principle to take over the management of an existing ab-initio training academy called the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi in the Rae Bareli district, Uttar Pradesh. It has also reached the final stages of talks about a partnership with the Aviation Authority of India in a new ab-initio program in Gondia, Maharashtra state. Roberts said he expected to close the contracts for both ventures “within two or three quarters.”  

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