With around £130 billion slated to be spent on infrastructure projects over the next few years, such developments are not only to help prepare the country host the world’s biggest sporting event, but they are also part of Vision 2030 – Qatar’s long-term development plan that brings together four pillars of economic, social, human and environmental progress
When fans from around the globe arrive in Qatar in 2022 for the biggest sport extravaganza in the world, they will find the country more than ready to host the FIFA World Cup thanks to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on preparing this tiny Gulf nation for the big event.
Much of that money, more than $200 billion (£130 billion), is being invested in infrastructure development alone and especially transport and guest facilities including new rail lines, a brand new international airport and port, state-of-the-art highways, new hotels, and so much more.
And the fans, officials and players participating in this World Cup will also appreciate that Qatar – at 11,437 square kilometres, or about the size of Yorkshire – is very compact, meaning there will be none of the travelling over hundreds of miles between stadiums as in past host nations like Brazil or the United States.
“That goes a long way as to why we were successful [in our bid],” says Nasser Al Khater, the Executive Director for Communications and Marketing at Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. “I think that we brought a different mentality and mind-set that was something people recognised, especially if you look at the compact nature of Qatar. In past tournaments it would take two or even three hour flights to travel from one city to the other. During the 2022 FIFA World Cup, you won’t have to take any flights to see a match once you are in Qatar. Because of this compact layout, the fans and activities are all going to be located in close proximity so it will surely create a more exciting atmosphere.”
But Qatar’s transformation is not just about football. It is part and parcel of the Qatari government’s ambitious Vision 2030 – a development plan that has set the long-term goal of creating a sustainable and advanced country with a high standard of living that will benefit all socially and economically.
Along with transport infrastructure, the plan calls for overhauling the hydrocarbon-rich nation’s electricity and water generation systems, as well as housing, health and education - with the funds coming from the government as well as local and international lenders.
Qatari officials have ensured both FIFA and the fans that the current drop in world petroleum prices will have no effect on the country’s spending in preparation for the kick-off at the opening match.
“We reiterate our commitment to investment in infrastructure, health, and education in accordance with the directions of his highness the Emir and in line with our national vision and the commitment to hold the World Cup finals in 2022,” Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani told a recent financial conference.
Aviation hits new heights
One key element in all of this is the role of Qatar Airways, the country’s national carrier which has become one of the world’s most respected airlines thanks to the geographical location of its base in Doha, route schedules, extensive network, and excellent service for all its passengers aboard the newest planes in the industry.
“The Qatar National Vision 2030 was launched to serve as a clear roadmap for Qatar’s future, with an aim to propel Qatar forwards by balancing accomplishments achieved through economic growth with human and natural resources,” says CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker. “Infrastructure plays a pivotal role in this goal and through such insight and forward planning Qatar has already seen the accomplishment of key projects such as our new global airline hub and home, Hamad International Airport.”
A flagship national project, Hamad International Airport is one of the most ambitious global airport projects ever undertaken, built upon 60% reclaimed land from the Arabian Gulf. Having taken 10 years and $16 billion to build, the airport finally opened in April 2014. With state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities all housed within one space, as well as optimised operational flow, the airport sets a new global standard for passengers.
Replacing the old Doha International Airport, it has a shopping emporium with 70 retail outlets, 30 cafes and restaurants, a spa, two hotels, squash courts, and a public mosque. Everything is contained in one sprawling, shiny terminal, and the expressive architecture and contemporary design mirrors both Qatar’s progressive growth and the nation’s rich cultural heritage.
As the landmark home for Qatar Airways, the terminal can accommodate 30 million passengers annually and has 41 unrestricted contact gates. When all stages of the airport are completed by 2020, annual passengers are expected to rise to 53 million, with various developments ongoing to enlarge the passenger terminal including the addition of new check-in counters, lounges, restaurants and boarding gates, as well as building a connection to the new Doha Metro.
“The airport was built to support the continuing growth of Qatar Airways, which now flies to more than 140 destinations worldwide, befitting the vision of Qatar’s future and making Doha a global hub for business and leisure travel and establishing aviation as a key pillar of the economy,” says Mr Al Baker.
As well as one the most modern airports on earth, the carrier also operates one of the youngest fleets in the sky, which includes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus 380, and as the global launch customer, the Airbus A350 XWB.
“With the introduction of the A380 and A350, 2014 truly was the ‘Year of the Fleet’ for Qatar Airways,” explains Mr Al Baker. “These aircraft offer passengers a far superior cabin environment than ever before, and one which reduces the symptoms of jet lag and fatigue associated with long-haul travel. Having one of the world’s youngest fleets, inclusive of the latest generation aircraft, also leads to lower emissions and contributes to Qatar Airways’ environmental commitment and responsibility.”
The Qatar Airways CEO adds that the company’s focus on expansion is not only of its fleet and route network (there are currently six daily services from Doha to Heathrow, as well as recently increased routes to Manchester and Edinburgh) but also through carefully planned acquisitions, with the airline having acquired 9.99 per cent of IAG, the parent company of its fellow One-World partner, British Airways, in January 2015.
With the significant increase in visitors that the Hamad International Airport, as well as Qatar Airway’s operational expansion, will bring to Qatar, there are certain spillover effects being created for other companies involved in the country’s transport, infrastructure, tourism and logistics sectors.
For instance, visitors to Qatar can now opt for a unique experience by booking a breathtaking aerial tour of Qatar’s urban, desert, and seaside vistas with Samana, a division of Gulf Helicopters Company (GHC), which CEO Mohammed Al Mohannadi describes as, “the largest helicopter company in the whole Middle East and the largest in growth worldwide.”
“We have just started transporting tourists and Qatar Airways’ expansion has brought more passengers to Qatar,” he explains. “We encourage seeing Qatar from the air, not just from the ground.”
Incorporated in the United Kingdom in 1970, GHC began to service the oil industry three years later. Along with offshore and onshore petroleum sector support operations, the company also provides seismic, logistic, photo, VIP transport and emergency medical services, or EMS.
“EMS is a very risky business because we have to take off and land in areas which are not well controlled like the street or the desert, for example,” the CEO explains. “The helicopter industry is not well-known to the public. This has been our most serious challenge. We have to work really hard with the media and the police to educate them about the role of helicopters, of EMS, and the benefits it brings to the society.
“People think our purpose is to transport critical patients to the hospital. This is a wrong idea. Our aim is to bring the hospital to the place of the incident so the doctors or paramedics can stabilise the patient before we move to hospital. This is part of our social commitment to Qatar.”
As well as from its home base, GHC also currently operates in the United Kingdom, Germany, Yemen, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, and Libya, with plans to further expand to Europe and perhaps South America. Having been established 45 years ago thanks to a small investment of £1,000, today the company is worth over £235 million.
Further to having just origins in Britain, Mr Al Mohannadi says that the company is increasingly involved in further opportunities there. “For the past several years, we have been working with a small aviation manufacturing company in the UK which needs investment and we are working very closely with a company there that develops Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones.
“And we are working with another entity in the UK in modifying helicopter engines to use natural gas instead of jet fuel which will benefit Qatar as a big natural gas producer.”
As well as taking advantage of opportunities presented abroad, GHC is also preparing for the lucrative openings that the FIFA World Cup will bring in a few years time. “Regarding 2022, we have already started investing in helicopters,” says Mr Al Mohannadi. “As we operate without competition in Qatar, we have to give something back to the country. We have a social programme, the EMS and also the developments for tourists. We are working very closely with the team of 2022, as one of the requirements from FIFA is to have EMS services set aside for the tournament.”
Education key to four pillar plan
As GHC has shown, investment in a country’s infrastructure does not only mean improvements in transport and logistics for citizens and tourists alike, but also in terms of knock-on benefits for industries such as the health sector, and as far as the Qatar Aeronautical College (QAC) is concerned, education.
Vital to the nation’s air transport sector and the country as a whole, QAC is the leading provider in the Gulf region for aviation training, offering full-time, approved courses for pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, airport management and flight dispatchers.
“Our two-year college diploma is well recognised by the airline industry, the aviation industry, and all the air forces in this region,” says Director General Ali Ibrahim Al Malki.
“When our engineers graduate they get a European Aviation Safety Agency diploma so they can work in any European aviation institution. And they can carry on their studies at a US or UK university for a higher degree.”
In the UK, for example, the college’s diploma is accepted as a foundation degree and the students can go to university for nine months and receive their bachelor degree in a fast track system.
“In the near future, there is going to be a global shortage of aviation professionals due to the growing demand for their services, so in our case this specialised training plays a very crucial role,” the director gerneral explains. “The aviation industry needs to have individuals with broader vision, individuals who have a degree, or a recognised vocational diploma that allows them to continue their education into a recognised degree programme.”
Like other Gulf States, Qatar is keen to educate its young people for jobs, which have largely been held by expatriates, and the Qatar Aeronautical College is a major player in this effort.
“Most of the development in Qatar has depended on people coming from outside, they helped and supported us to move forward in our careers and we do appreciate that,” Mr Al Malki notes.
“However, you need your own people to grow and so you have to train them. We Qataris need to be able to support ourselves. But for the time being because of such rapid growth, we need both expats and local talent.”
In order for Qatar to reach its full potential, the general director argues that all sectors must be developed and praises the country’s leadership in this regard.
“Development is not possible by only focusing on one sector; to develop the whole country and the economy you must be able to develop industry and the education needed to support it.
“His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani is very forward looking and has the vision required to ensure the four pillars of the Vision 2030 are effective.”
Legacy for the future
One key governmental organisation tasked with bringing these four pillars – economic, social, human and environmental – together, not only by 2030, but also in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, is the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. As Qatar invests billions of dollars in its infrastructure projects – including the construction of upto nine new stadiums – in the run up to the competition, the specific role of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy is to ensure that all preparations for the World Cup align with Qatar’s others development goals.
Its expanded brief includes guaranteeing the timely delivery of infrastructure and competition and non-competition venues, integrating Qatari culture into all hosting plans, providing the best possible image of the Middle East when the event takes place, and adopting high environmental standards for all projects for a carbon neutral tournament.
These days, “legacy”, or what the facilities will be used for after a mega-event like a World Cup or Olympic Games, is an important part of planning and Nasser Al Khater, the Committee’s executive director for communications and marketing, stresses that input from local residents has been vital.
“We are not only building stadiums. We want to make sure that the stadiums form part of the community which is why they are situated within a precinct that is compatible with the community that surrounds it,” he explains.
“One of our main tasks is to speak to the people of the communities to see what some of their aspirations are, what they would like to see as part of the development of their communities and how the Committee can achieve those goals.”