Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air

Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air
The Midfield Terminal Abu Dhabi International Airport. Completion of the new building, which will increase capacity to 45 million per year, has been delayed until 2019. Courtesy, ADAC
Updated 23 April 2018

Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air

Abu Dhabi’s aviation ambitions up in the air
  • Passenger traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport fell 11 percent in the first quarter
  • Etihad Airways this month cut routes to Edinburgh and Perth

LONDON: The inaugural non-stop Qantas flight between Perth and London last month may have been hailed as the future of aviation by the airline industry, but it’s unlikely to have prompted much celebrating in Abu Dhabi.

The prospect of ultra-long haul flights, which reduce journey times by cutting out the need for stopovers, strikes at the heart of the business model of the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which have risen to prominence in recent years as major transit centers for global air travel.

“The Gulf airports burst onto the scene as the airframe technology changed and the long-haul hubbing model was created,” Andrew Charlton, the managing director of consulting firm Aviation Advocacy.

“The Qantas flights from Perth show that the technology is again changing; in the end, the technology always wins.”

Mr. Charlton cautioned that the impact in the short-term on Abu Dhabi and other hubs would be minimal, noting that ultra-long haul would not be available to most passengers.

What’s more, “the market demographics and the economics of hubbing (still) make airports in the Gulf very attractive,” he said.

But ultra-long haul travel is just the latest in a series of issues impacting Abu Dhabi’s aviation strategy, with progress slowing in the wake of lower oil prices and operational issues at Etihad, the emirate’s flag-carrier.

The high-profile Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport, designed to expand capacity to 45 million passengers per year, has faced numerous delays, with its expected opening date pushed back from late-2017 until the end of 2019.

The increase in capacity, designed to coincide with the growth of Etihad Airways, no longer seems as urgent a priority, as the emirate cuts back on spending in the wake of lower oil revenues. Meanwhile, Etihad’s international expansion strategy, launched in 2011, is now very much on hold.

Etihad’s strategy of acquiring a series of stakes in global airlines, in a bid to transform itself into a global rival to the likes of Dubai’s Emirates, hit the buffers last year, with the bankruptcy of Alitalia and Air Berlin, two of its largest interests. Etihad subsequently sold its stake in European regional carrier Darwin Airline, with rumors earlier this month that it may also look to offload its stake in Virgin Australia, after the latter canceled its last route to Abu Dhabi earlier last year.

Etihad did not respond to a request for comment.

The loss of some of Etihad’s international operations has taken its toll on Abu Dhabi’s passenger traffic. Abu Dhabi Airports has not released traffic figures for 2017, but passenger numbers for the 11 months to the end of November fell 3.7 percent year on year to 21.5 million.

That trend appears to have deepened so far this year; Abu Dhabi Airports last week announced an 11 percent drop in passenger traffic for the first quarter of the year, falling to 5.5 million, with aircraft movements dropping 15 percent to 35,788.

The drop in cargo was even more pronounced, falling 25 percent year on year to 142,492 metric tons.

Traffic through the emirate is “likely to see further reductions,” said John Strickland, director of JLS Consultancy.

Earlier this month, Etihad announced it was cutting flights to Edinburgh and Perth in Australia, as part “of several adjustments that we are making to our network in 2018 in order to improve system profitability,” according to an Etihad spokesman. This followed the axing of its Dallas route late last year.

Mr. Charlton said that Abu Dhabi’s hub strategy remains solid for the moment, but that the loss of Alitalia and Air Berlin “certainly slows things down.”

Abu Dhabi Airports did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are continuously working toward fortifying Abu Dhabi International Airport’s presence as a key airport hub within the region, by enhancing our existing network and connecting with new and wider markets globally,” said Saoud Al Shamsi, the acting chief commercial officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, in a statement coinciding with the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai.

“We are optimistic about the sector’s performance in the coming years that will continue to be key in our efforts to implement enhancements to our services.”


How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Updated 6 min 49 sec ago

How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
  • Shariah-compliant finance is a rapidly growing industry that prioritizes sustainable expansion

LONDON: The Islamic finance investment model is a natural fit for investors looking to use their money ethically and sustainably, and could be a key
industry in helping the world to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts have told Arab News.

Islamic finance takes a different approach from today’s profit-above-all investment orthodoxy.
It prioritizes low-risk investments, and avoids markets such as pork, alcohol and gambling — as well as barring the payment of interest and ensuring ethical governance.
Far from impeding growth, however, this alternative approach to investing is rapidly evolving into a booming industry, Martina Macpherson, senior vice president of partnerships and engagement at Moody’s ESG Solutions Group, told Arab News.
She and her team expect the industry to hold over $4 trillion in assets by 2030.
“Islamic finance (will) continue to expand in the next decade across regions and asset classes, and there is an opportunity for Islamic Finance and Shariah-compliant investments to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s own Vision 2030, the SDGs lay out a vision of a just, fair and prosperous world by 2030, codified into 17 interlinked goals designed by the UN as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals in two ways: By uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, she said.
The “SDGs and Islamic finance share joint values and fundamentals,” she said. “They are ethically linked, asset-backed, focused on risk and opportunity management, and centered on good governance as well as stakeholder impact.”

FASTFACTS

• Islamic finance products a ‘natural fit’ for meeting the UN sustainable development goals — Moody’s.

• The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals through uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, says expert.

“Islamic finance products aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for institutional investors committed to positive impact.”
Much like the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, one of the central goals of the SDGs is to tackle climate change, and this is “one of the key areas for Islamic finance to synchronize with the SDGs,” Macpherson said.
Stella Cox, managing director of Islamic finance intermediary firm DDCAP Group, speaking with Arab News, echoed Macpherson’s views on the role that Islamic finance can play in addressing issues like climate change. She emphasized, however, the importance of developing “a set of common standards, laws and regulations that will ensure shared best practice” moving toward 2030.
This cooperation, she said, “should be perceived as opportunity, rather than challenge, and that opportunity will enable Shariah compliant firms to work more closely with others in addressing and providing solutions for the biggest environmental and social challenges that the world has ever faced.”
Samina Akram, managing director of Samak Ethical Finance, told Arab News that the importance of ethical investing has only grown as the millennial generation have been “exposed to the harsh realities of the conventional financial system” in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
They have been turned off conventional investing by “bad governance, bad leadership, casino type banking, and a lack of transparency,” Akram said.
And critically, she added, “they want no part to play in damaging the environment.”


4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
Updated 23 sec ago

4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
  • Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure is a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia could become a global center for new drone technology under plans being advanced by the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
(4IR) recently inaugurated in Riyadh in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mansour Alsaleh, director of the center, told Arab News that heavy lift drone technology had been prioritized by the Kingdom as one of its 4IR projects. “Saudi Arabia can be a leading country in developing the regulatory framework for heavy-lift drones. It can be ahead of the world,” he said.
Heavy lift drone technology has advanced to a stage where it requires a more sophisticated regulatory framework, he said, not just in the Kingdom but globally, and these are being developed in partnership with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport and Saudi Aramco. “The applications are endless,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced drones have been used to deliver vaccines in Africa in the course of the pandemic, and American drone manufacturers have also been accelerating their efforts to transport heavy loads — up to 500kg depending on the technology — to locations with poor access. Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure was identified as a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy, and drones are seen as a key enhancer of existing transport systems.
“By integrating these two mutually supportive components of regulatory transformation and pilot tests, Saudi Arabia can be a model for the rest of the world while supporting its own industrial development and social goals,” the WEF said in a recent report of which Alsaleh was a co-author.
Alsaleh said that the Kingdom had identified 70 opportunities to apply 4IR technologies, and was prioritizing plans in five other areas, apart from drone technology — artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, government data systems, and “smart cities” such as NEOM.
Each potential project goes through four stages, he explained: Identifying and selection; framework development in partnership with other stakeholders; prototyping and testing; and scaling up within a regulatory framework.
At the recent two-day event run from Riyadh to celebrate the inauguration of the 4IR center, many speakers underlined the need for partnership between government and other parts of the economy and society. Alsaleh reinforced that view. “We are looking for an eco-system, involving the public and regulatory sector, along with private industry and research and academia. It is about having the right blend between those areas,” he said.
One of the challenges was to identify technology at an early stage and take it through the phases of “sandboxing” and testing to further development, even as a regulatory framework was being fully developed. “Sometimes you have just got to take the risk,” he said. Some experts have warned of the challenges associated with rapid technological development, such as vulnerability to cyberattack and concerns over data privacy, but Alsaleh was confident these issues could be met and overcome. “There is no one single recipe to solve these challenges, we need to tackle them one by one. But if we focus more on the benefits that will flow from 4IR technology, it will help you overcome the challenges. We have to minimize the risks from emerging technologies,” he said.
The impact of 4IR technologies cuts across all aspects of human social and economic activity, Alsaleh said. “You cannot limit it to one particular sector, it is everywhere. If you do not keep up with the pace and become an early adopter, you will fall behind,” he explained, underlining the need to strike a balance between the “explore” and “exploit” phases of a 4IR project. But he said that IoT and AI technologies had great market value and could be used in multiple different applications. “You never know what will be shaping the future,” he said.
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. “We have the Circular Carbon Economy initiative. To make a clean energy transition, 4IR must be at the heart of that,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced technologies have been crucial in helping confront the big issues presented by the pandemic, and some changes — such as remote working via virtual communication systems — may become a permanent feature of the post-pandemic world.
Saudi Arabia is one of 13 centers for 4IR around the world, and Alsaleh said the benefits would have global impact.

“Organizations such as the WEF and 4IR are reaching out to everybody. It is all accessible and everyone can benefit from the work,” he said.


Pace of CEO resignations at listed KSA firms picked up amid pandemic

The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
Updated 23 min 33 sec ago

Pace of CEO resignations at listed KSA firms picked up amid pandemic

The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
  • Three quarters of the resignations were attributed to special circumstances while 8 percent left for other roles

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian listed companies lost CEOs at twice the average annual pace in the first half of the year as the stresses of the pandemic took their toll.  
There were 128 CEO resignations from 97 companies listed on the Tadawul’s main and parallel markets over the past five years for an average of about 25 a year, according to a study by the Capital Market Authority (CMA). However, 26 CEOs resigned in the past six months, Maaal newspaper reported. The largest number of resignations over the past five years came from the telecommunications sector and the real estate management and development sector with six and 13 resignations, respectively, the study showed.
Three quarters of the resignations were attributed to special circumstances while 8 percent left for other roles. The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years.
Developing the Saudi market to align with Vision 2030 requires good investment tools and excellent financial results, and the pandemic revealed the inability of some executive departments in some companies, in dealing with the risks and changes occurring, and the lack of capabilities to help them lead companies, Faiz Alhomrani, a financial market analyst told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHT

The largest number of resignations over the past five years came from the telecommunications sector and the real estate management and development sector with six and 13 resignations, respectively, the study showed.

Companies’ shareholders started to see that some CEOs or executive departments did not provide anything, and they couldn’t achieve positive results, neither in financial results nor in cash distributions, during three to four years, Alhomrani said.
“I think four years for a CEO is enough time to be evaluated,” he said.
The number of resignations in 2017 and 2020 was the highest during the study period (2016-2020), which may be attributed to unfavorable economic conditions during those years, with 45 percent of year 2020 resignations occurring in the fourth quarter.
Previous studies confirm that the biggest reason behind forced resignations is the company’s poor performance, CMA said.
The Saudi market today has moved from an internal local market to a global market and has begun to be closely linked to global markets, thus if CEOs have not new ideas, they will have to resign, said Alhomrani.
Major Saudi companies to have lost a CEO last year include STC, Almarai, Savola, Sipchem, Petrochem, Samba, Alinma Bank, Bank Aljazira, NCB and ANB.


UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash
Updated 30 July 2021

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash
  • Dubai is building a $1.1 billion waste-to-energy plant
  • Sharjah, Abu Dhabi also constructing facilities

RIYADH: The UAE plans to build a series of waste incinerators that will eventually burn up to two thirds of the country’s trash to deal with a growing refuse problem.

Dubai is constructing a $1.1 billion waste-to-energy facility, one of the largest in the world, while a smaller plant in being built in Sharjah and will begin operation this year, Bloomberg reported. Two further projects are being built in Abu Dhabi.

Burning trash creates carbon emissions, potentially making it harder for the UAE to reach its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

However, Bee’ah, Sharjah’s waste company, will try to mitigate this by creating green spaces, install a 120-MW solar array on top of the plant and produce hydrogen from the garbage to fuel its rubbish trucks. Sharjah will also be able to close its landfill site.

Bee’ah CEO Khaled Al Huraimel said he wants to export the model across the region, including Saudi Arabia.

While environmentalist favor recycling over burning of trash, turning plastics and other waste into usable products is extremely challenging.

China’s recent ban on the importation of waste “has really changed the economic drivers,” said Mr.John Ord, a UK business director at engineering firm Stantec. “All of a sudden, we have a lot of waste that needs to be dealt with.”


Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level
Updated 30 July 2021

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

RIYADH: Bitcoin traded higher on Thursday, rising by 0.03 percent to $39,670.54 at 4:02 p.m. Riyadh time. Ether, the second-most traded global cryptocurrency, was up 0.44 percent to $2,291.72.05, according to data from CoinDesk.

Below is the latest news from the world of cryptocurrency:

Bitcoin buyers have been profitable, as the cryptocurrency tests the $40,000 resistance level. Sentiment has improved significantly over the past week, although some analysts believe it is time to pause before rallying again.

In a CoinDesk report, Justin Chuh, a senior trader at Wave Financial, said: “Bitcoin easily broke through $35,000, but I think it will probably have a harder time going through $40,000 this time.”

But attitudes could easily shift from bullish to bearish as bitcoin was still in a consolidation phase with strong resistance, the report added.

HIGHLIGHT

Bitcoin buyers have been profitable, as the cryptocurrency tests the $40,000 resistance level. Sentiment has improved significantly over the past week, although some analysts believe it is time to pause before rallying again.

Meanwhile, in a research paper published on Wednesday, Bank of America described central bank digital currencies as a more efficient payment system than cash. The second-largest bank in the US by total assets, said that digital central bank currencies could completely replace cash in the distant future.

A report released in May by blockchain infrastructure platform Bison Trails found that around 80 percent of central banks were exploring using digital currencies, with CoinDesk reporting that 40 percent were already testing proof-of-concept programs.

London-based Fabric Ventures has closed a $130 million fund to invest in early stage blockchain companies. One of its supporters is the European Investment Fund, which provided $30 million, marking the first time a European Commission company had invested in a fund focused on digital assets, said CoinDesk.

Stock and cryptocurrency trading app Robinhood has received a $32 billion valuation with its initial public offering and was set to debut on the Nasdaq on Thursday.

In a press statement on Wednesday, Robinhood priced its offering at $38 per Class A common share. The price is at the lower end of the $38 to $42 share price range that the company had targeted, and it planned to sell 5.5 million shares targeting an increase of $1.89 billion.

The firm is trying to reshape its image and said it was working on a new feature that would help protect users from cryptocurrency price volatility, while hiring a former Google graduate to improve the overall product design, according to CoinDesk.