The UAE is currently ranked second behind Singapore and ahead of Hong Kong in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index in terms of air transport infrastructure, and the country’s new aviation strategy (2017-21) aims to take it to the top spot.

“It is going to be a challenging task,” says Laila Hareb, assistant director-general, strategy and international affairs at the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). ”Singapore has only one airport and one airline. The [UAE aviation sector] is more complex.”

Several key initiatives have been put in place in line with achieving this and other goals. They include increased compliance with international safety and security standards, where the UAE is already acknowledged as a leader; improving services delivery though innovation; and cross-border engagement programmes to ensure air space availability, among many others.

Hareb says the GCAA has initiated a restructuring of its airspace primarily through creating new “corridors” within the same airspace allocated by the government to civil aviation. She stresses that they are working closely with the other GCC and Arab states in terms of airspace restructuring efforts as well as security and safety compliance.

Investments in new technologies, particularly in air traffic management, are also under way, according to Hareb.

The UAE aviation sector is understood to have made key strides in recent years. In 2014, the country ranked first globally in terms of compliance with international aviation safety standards; in 2015, it ranked first in terms of compliance with international security standards; it also went from third in 2012 to second globally in 2015 in terms of air transport infrastructure.

Saif Mohammed al-Suwaidi, GCAA director-general, says the UAE aviation sector has been given the right tools to succeed and it is aiming towards becoming a “global pioneer” with the use of innovation in improving services delivery, apart from ensuring safety and security standards.

“We have succeeded brilliantly… the [UAE] leadership is paying a lot of attention to ensure [the aviation sector’s] continued success. A lot of this will depend on the implementation of our new strategy,” Al-Suwaidi said.

Passenger and aircraft traffic in the UAE’s top airports – Dubai International, Abu Dhabi International and Sharjah International – have been growing at double-digit rates in recent years. The country, with a population of 9 million, has four airlines. Together they maintain 460 in-service fleet, with more than 500 aircraft pending delivery.

Dubai International is the world’s largest airport in terms of international passengers.