Dubai Airport old photo
The aviation industry is already a heavy hitter in the UAE GDP numbers. There's enough runway to aim for more. (Pictured above Dubai International Airport in 1959) Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

On October 5, 1932, a historic moment unfolded in Sharjah, as the first-ever aircraft touched down, carrying four passengers. This moment marked the inception of the UAE’s remarkable aviation legacy, which has grown into a formidable force contributing significantly to the nation’s GDP.

Before the 2019-20 global pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that the aviation industry alone supported almost 800,000 jobs and contributed $47.4 billion to the UAE’s annual GDP, with $19.3 billion from airlines and their supply chains. And over $28 billion from the aviation-supported foreign tourism sector, accounting for roughly 13.3 per cent of the GDP.

The UAE’s aviation sector is not only economically robust but also globally acclaimed. In 1972, the UAE joined the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), underscoring its commitment to aviation excellence. In 2007, the nation’s stature in the aviation world was affirmed when it was selected as one of only 36 countries to form the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Today, the UAE boasts eight international airports, connecting millions of travellers. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is forecast to welcome a staggering 78 million passengers this year.


Additionally, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) has experienced substantial growth, welcoming 67 per cent more passengers year-on-year and accommodating 36 per cent more flights in the first-half of 2023.

The aviation world recently witnessed an exciting moment as the new Abu Dhabi International Airport, known as ‘The Midfield Terminal’, made its cinematic debut in the latest Mission Impossible movie, captivating audiences and firmly identifying Abu Dhabi as a symbol of aviation excellence.

Job creator across sectors

The impact of the UAE’s aviation sector in the UAE extends beyond numbers; it is a crucial driver of employment. With over 800,000 individuals employed, extending far beyond traditional boundaries to ancillary sectors, such as tourism, and other sectors benefiting from the industry’s multiplier effect.

From airlines and operators to manufacturers, service providers, and aviation MROs, the sector offers diverse employment opportunities, impressively, championing gender diversity, with 27,000 women actively contributing to its success.


As we celebrate UAE Civil Aviation Day, we must acknowledge the indispensable role played by local talent in shaping the industry’s trajectory. Beyond technological advancements and innovative infrastructure, it’s the dedication and expertise of individuals that have cemented aviation’s significance in advancing our nation’s development and economic prosperity.

With the industry projected to burgeon into a $127 billion giant by 2037, investing in personalized approaches to human capital development is vital, enabling future aviation leaders to build upon the nation’s legacy as a critical global aviation hub.

Scaling up the talent base

Tailored training and development programs, blending academic rigor with practical modules, can amplify the strengths of our future leaders, equipping them with the skills required in the evolving aviation landscape.

Effective preparation of local talent requires strategic collaboration between corporations, academia, and the public sector. The Sanad Future Leaders Program is demonstrating what can be achieved when leading international business schools, partner with industry leaders to nurtured high-potential professionals for leadership roles. It offers meticulously designed programs tailored to each participant’s strengths and areas of development, enabling them to spearhead and execute Sanad’s long-term strategy.

This synergy between the public and private sectors, coupled with academia’s involvement, forges a potent platform for talent development, cultivating a robust pipeline of industry talent filled with leadership potential and enhancing the allure of careers in aviation for our youth, ready to contribute to the UAE’s sustainable growth.

It is imperative that we continue nurturing and empowering local talent. From that historic 1932 landing carrying just four passengers, UAE airports now serve approximately 31.8 million, marking an extraordinary journey of growth and progress in our aviation legacy. The commitment and dedication of the people behind this legacy ensure the UAE remains a beacon in the global aviation landscape.