RAK flies into the future

Ras Al Khaimah is undertaking a massive development programme, which will see a new airport, an airline and a space port. Tamara Walid speaks to Eng. Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi about the emirate’s plans.

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By  Tamara Walid Published  June 18, 2006

|~|1DSC06749-pp24-200.jpg|~|AMBITION: Eng. Al Qasimi hopes RAK’s aviation schemes boost GDP in the emirate.|~|Ras Al Khaimah is undertaking a massive development programme, which will see a new airport, an airline and a space port. Tamara Walid speaks to Eng. Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi about the emirate’s plans. In the near future, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) will have its own airline, a bigger airport and a spaceport offering space tourism. At least, that is the vision of Eng. Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of the Department of Civil Aviation and RAK International Airport. “The study on RAK Airways is almost finalised and we will hopefully fly in April or May 2007,” says Eng. Al Qasimi. The airline, which will be the UAE’s fourth national carrier, will commence operations with two to three aircraft, either Airbus 320s or Boeing 727s, although their purchase has not yet been finalised. There is a list of destinations the carrier will serve, Eng. Al Qasimi explains, but the airline will start with flights to Beirut. The company has so far raised AED850 million (US$230 million) through a flotation and has an authorised capital of AED1.5 billion (US$410 million). RAK is eager to play a role in the fast growing aviation industry. Although the airline will start by serving the Middle East, North Africa and Indian sub-continent, future plans include flying to destinations in Europe and other parts of the world. “I’m sure it’s late for us to launch such a project in RAK. I wish we had launched it a long time ago, but late's better than never,” says Eng. Al Qasimi. “I believe that this airline will contribute to and support the economy of RAK and the whole UAE. The Middle East, and the UAE, are one of the hotspots and highest growing regions in the world in aviation.” In addition to launching an airline, a five-year expansion plan for RAK International Airport is underway. It will be part of a 20-year master plan that has been under study for the past three years. “The master plan is looking at three different areas: the airport’s infrastructure from roads and buildings to the tower and electricity; the addition of RAK Airways; and the supporting projects around the airport parameter area which is the free zone, the business part, hotel, and industrial zone,” says Eng. Al Qasimi. The success of the RAK Free Zone has led officials to attempt to “mimic such an experience at the airport”, says Sheikh Al Qasimi. The issuing of activity licenses for international companies to avoid local regulations started three years ago. He says more land is being acquired near the airport to establish a free zone intended for light industries and aviation-related businesses. The cargo area will also be connected to the free zone area. This will provide each industry operating at the airport with three accesses to the cargo area, thus cutting the time needed to transport goods from different industry zones or warehouses. The expansion also includes the extension of the airport's runway, the installation of new high-tech equipment, and the setting up of new facilities such as parking spaces, restaurants and offices. The investment in the airport expansion over the next five years will be AED110 million (US$30 million). Plans for an airport hotel worth AED120 million (US$33 million) are also in the pipeline. The total investment, including the airline, will amount to an estimated AED800 million (US$217 million). “For RAK Airways we’re already building a hotel next to Al Hamra as we’ve been awarded by the government a piece of land to build on,” adds Eng. Al Qasimi. RAK is still to embark on another major project that has already succeeded in winning the emirate a considerable amount of publicity. Under the move, space tourism company, Space Adventures, will bring a commercial spaceport, funded by various parties, to the emirate. The contract is still being negotiated, but a memorandum of understanding has been signed and official approval by the government has been granted. “It is really happening,” says Eng. Al Qasimi. “We are not creating something that is not available in the market, but as the US has privatised the space industry, Space Adventures is taking the beam in starting real space tourism,” he says. Space Adventures is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia and has offices in Florida, Moscow and Tokyo. It says its programmes will include orbital space flight missions to the International Space Station, commercial missions around the moon, cosmonaut training, as well as reservations on future sub-orbital space trips. “They have already started in Kazakhstan sending to the international space station, but what we’re offering here is different. We offer space tourism to sub-orbital flights, and such flights go to [space] and come back again so the whole trip lasts about 45 minutes. We’re still at the late stages of signing the contract and hopefully by this year we will finalise the deal,” says Eng. Al Qasimi. Eng. Al Qasimi says talks with Virgin’s boss Richard Branson, who is also planning to launch space tourism in the Middle East, could see two systems set up in the emirate. “We have the Russian technology and Richard Branson has the American technology,” he says. All in all, Eng Al Qasimi thinks there will be a big jump in RAK's air traffic in terms of passengers and cargo, as well as the number of companies operating there. He also believes that RAK’s development will “bring and enhance the business of the airport and attract different ventures to the emirate”. He says the other UAE airlines, Emirates, Etihad, and Air Arabia, have all contributed significantly to the economy of the emirate in which they’re based. “I think we also have the right to create such enhancement for our aviation business here at RAK,” he says. Eng. Al Qasimi says the projects could have a huge impact on GDP. “There will be more capital-oriented projects. The government is very keen to attract capital from all over the world to be invested here in the emirate,” he says. “The Department of Aviation and airport authorities on their part are working on attracting foreign companies to be based at the airport and are currently in talks with Asian and European partners for such ventures."||**||

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