Cargo awaits its place in Abu Dhabi’s airport plans

Abu Dhabi is investing $6.8bn to upgrade its airport and cement its position as a global hub. But, as Peter Conway discovers, the cargo elements of the plan still have not yet been fully defined.

Long the richest but one of the most conservative of the UAE states, Abu Dhabi has until recently seemed to disdain the example of its enthusiastic northern neighbour Dubai, with its massive investment in infrastructure, freighttransport and tourism.

One reason was the emirate’s huge oil wealth. Abu Dhabi has estimated reserves of 92.2 billion barrels, the fourth largest in the world, and enough for it to pump two million barrels a day well into the next century. It also has the world’s third largest gas reserves. With all that income, the emirate didn’t feel the need to try too hardto earn more.

But since 2004, when Sheikh Khalifa succeeded as ruler on the death of his father Sheikh Zayed, Abu Dhabi has embarked on a determined effort to diversify away from a dependency on oil. The new Sheikh has brought younger heads into top management positions, and now plans a massive $200bn infrastructure, tourism, manufacturing andservices over the next nine years.

The island of Saadiyat, for example, once planned to be a $3.5bn commercial zone with commodity exchanges, fi nancial centres and an IT park, is now being re-developed as a tourist destination, with investments estimated at $27bn. Among the daring moves to attract leisure visitors have been deals with the Louvre museum in France and the Guggenheim in New York to stage permanent exhibitions of their leadingart treasures.