Aerospace & Defense

Aerospace CEO sees growing role for the United Arab Emirates in global supply chain

Key Points
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is gearing up to help meet a growing demand for aircraft with air travel expected to rise exponentially in the coming years.
  • Strata CEO Ismail Ali Abdulla wants to position the company as a greater part of the international supply chain for major aircraft makers.
  • The UAE currently ranks 38th globally in terms of aerospace exporters, with 0.11 percent of the world total in 2017.
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Aerospace CEO sees growing global role for the UAE in manufacturing

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is gearing up to help meet a growing demand for aircraft with air travel expected to rise exponentially in the coming years.

"The forecast we've seen is the world will require around 35,000 aircraft over the next 20 to 25 years," Ismail Ali Abdulla, the CEO of Emirati aerospace firm Strata Manufacturing, told CNBC's Hadley Gamble at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.

"That's a huge number and we want to make sure that Strata is ready to manufacture and deliver."

Strata is an aerostructures manufacturing plant wholly owned by Mubadala, the UAE's $127 billion national wealth fund and investment vehicle aimed at diversifying Abu Dhabi's economy. Its CEO wants to position the company as greater part of the international supply chain for major aircraft makers.

The country of 10 million is home to more than 200 nationalities and only 10 percent Emirati citizens, making it a challenge to fill high-skilled jobs with homegrown talent. As part of its diversification drive, some companies in the UAE are pursuing skills development for Emiratis — and Strata puts a particular emphasis on its commitment to raising the proportion of women in the workforce.

United Arab Emirates' Air Force Aerobatic Team performs with an Emirates Airline Airbus A380 at the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013, in Dubai.
Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

"Females represent 48 percent of our total workforces, out of which 96 percent are UAE nationals," Abdulla said. "Early on we understood the importance of building a sustainable activity here in the UAE, we concentrated on developing UAE nationals." That involved teaming up with UAE University, he said, adding that half of Strata's supervisors and half of its team leaders are UAE national females.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, female labor force participation is 26 percent, well below the 39 percent rate of lower and middle income countries.

In terms of becoming a major player in global aerospace manufacturing, the small state has some way to go — it doesn't yet crack the top 30 aerospace exporters by country, coming in at number 38 with 0.11 percent of the world total in 2017, according to the CIA World Factbook.

But the CEO is optimistic, banking on the expectation that the aerospace industry has plenty of room to grow. He described his company's $7.5 billion worth of commitments with major international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as existing supply partnerships with industry leaders Boeing, Airbus and Leonardo.

"Last year we were able to deliver more than 9,500 parts, and today there are around 8 percent of worldwide fleets flying with parts made here in the UAE," he said, adding that Strata signed two major deals during the summit, including a new manufacturing deal with Boeing.