Home » His Excellency Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA): Promoting innovation is essential for the growth of the aviation sector

His Excellency Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA): Promoting innovation is essential for the growth of the aviation sector

by Madaline Dunn

In recent years, the UAE has shown increasing interest in achieving sustainability in the aviation sector. It has launched the National Program for Energy and Water Demand Management in the Transport Sector, the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, and the strategic initiative to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Further, according to the official UAE government website, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Policy aims to accelerate decarbonisation in the country’s aviation sector and transform the UAE into a regional hub for low-carbon aviation fuel. 

It also targets a minimum of 1 per cent locally produced sustainable fuel out of the total fuel supplied to UAE airlines in 2031. 

At the same time, the policy aims to accelerate the deployment of technology and innovation and develop the national regulatory environment for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

In this context, Sal Jafar, CEO of ESG Mena, interviewed His Excellency Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), on the sidelines of the Promising Future event.

What are the goals of the cooperation with academic institutions?

The aviation sector in the UAE is one of the pillars of economic diversification, representing more than 13 per cent of the country’s GDP. Given the size and distinctiveness of this sector, stimulating innovation and supporting creative thinking and innovative solutions to the various challenges it faces are essential elements for the growth of this vital sector. We now have many universities in the country specialising in aviation and many technical institutes, and there is a huge amount of innovation and academic research that benefits the development and progress of national and global aviation.

Through the cooperation between the GCAA and many specialised academic and research institutions, such as Khalifa University, Sharjah University, and the University of the Emirates, we aim to develop a platform to link these ideas and innovations with the institutions and entities responsible for their application and transforming these innovations into real projects and services on the ground.

What is the role of private companies in aviation innovation?

We have agreements and partnerships with the private sector, and we have application programs that aim to adopt and support innovative services and products in the aviation sector. The “Promising Future” initiative aims to share the discussion between the private sector and relevant institutions with students and researchers in the early stages of the idea or scientific research to guide them to the real needs related to challenges of interest to their work.

Do you expect external partnerships? Is there any communication with universities?

We have agreements with Sharjah University, the University of the Emirates, and Khalifa University. These universities have existing cooperation with international educational and academic institutions. Our main goal is to stimulate and support innovative ideas that serve the aviation sector in the country.

Will we see commercial and applied programs for these innovations?

We look forward to that, but ultimately, the decision is up to the companies themselves to deal with the innovations and advanced ideas that innovators propose. In the UAE, we are proud that we are not just consumers of aviation products, but also producers of them. We have specialised companies that are globally competitive in this field.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the State, may God protect him, extended the Year of Sustainability. The aviation sector globally causes 2 per cent to 3 per cent of carbon emissions. How do your programs work in this regard and related to innovation and sustainable fuel?

We have many initiatives in this regard to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation system. We work continuously and in cooperation with our partners to develop these initiatives and expand them continuously.

The issue of sustainability and environmental impact of the aviation sector is not new. It is an effort that the UAE started more than 14 years ago. The country has taken many important steps to raise its level of readiness to deal with this issue. It has developed the general environmental policy for the civil aviation sector and the state’s plan to reduce emissions, followed by a detailed plan classified in 2018 as one of the best plans in the world. This is in addition to the country’s membership in the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and its commitment to implementing the CORSIA plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from national carrier aircraft. In 2022, the aviation sector announced its commitment to the zero climate neutrality decision by 2050. The country also announced the National Roadmap for Sustainable Aviation Fuel and the General Policy for Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

All these efforts have enhanced the state’s weight on the global stage in the file of sustainable fuel for the aviation sector. In November last year, the state hosted the third edition of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels, which resulted in the announcement of the Dubai Global Framework for Sustainable Aviation Fuel. This is a global framework for low-carbon and sustainable aviation fuel, and other types of clean fuel.

The framework sets an ambitious target of reducing 5 per cent of carbon emissions from the global aviation sector by 2030.

Will you grant the air taxi displayed at the World Government Summit a certification of approval?

The General Civil Aviation Authority is working continuously in cooperation with its partners to create the appropriate regulatory environment to embrace this pioneering project. The General Civil Aviation Authority has recently issued regulations for air taxis and vertical ports, making it the first national aviation authority in the world to issue these regulations. These regulations lay the foundation for the future infrastructure of the air transport system within urban areas.

We look at the “air taxi” project as one of the mega projects that will create new investment opportunities in developing the infrastructure of the air transport system and smart transportation within cities.

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