Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates are wholly-owned and heavily subsidized by their respective governments, but the degree of coordination between Emirates and its government owner, the Emirate of Dubai, is particularly brazen.
Imagine if the CEO of a major U.S. airline were the uncle of the president of the United States. Now imagine that he also ran the Federal Aviation Administration, major airports like JFK and LAX, and even the nation’s largest bank. While this scenario may sound absurd, it is precisely the situation in Dubai.
The Chairman (of Everything)!
The Chairman of Emirates – Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family and the uncle of the current ruler – controls or plays a management role in virtually every other component of Dubai’s aviation sector and numerous other state-owned companies or government entities. A list of his titles shows just how far his reach extends:
- President, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (Dubai’s equivalent of the FAA)
- Board Member, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (the UAE’s equivalent of the FAA)
- Deputy Chairman, Dubai Executive Council
- Chairman, Dubai Department of Oil Affairs
- Board Member, Dubai Council for Economic Affairs
- Chairman, Dubai Economic Development Committee
- Chairman, Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee
- Chairman, Dubai Supreme Energy Council
Finance and Investment
- Chairman, Emirates NDB (the UAE’s largest bank)
- Director, Investment Corporation of Dubai
- Chairman, Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority
- Chairman, Noor Investment Group
Travel and Infrastructure
- Chairman, Emirates Airline
- Chairman, Dubai Airports Company
- Chairman, dnata (airport ground services company)
- Chairman, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (aircraft leasing company)
- Chairman, Dubai Duty Free
- Chairman, flydubai (low-cost carrier)
Systematic Subsidization and No Transparency
A web of interlocking state-owned commercial corporations, financial institutions, and investments arms effectively creates a veil beneath which the government systematically subsidizes and supports Emirates. Consider:
Massive purchases of goods and services by Emirates from affiliated state-owned entities at below-market prices. The total amount of subsidy from those purchases is impossible to determine due to Dubai Inc.’s pervasive lack of transparency, but Emirates has made at least $11 billion in “not-at-arm’s length” transactions since 2004 alone.
Tens of billions of dollars in airport construction by the UAE government, providing facilities specific to Emirates that are necessary for its unrestrained growth.
Government assumption of Emirates’ fuel hedging contracts. This shielded the airline from billions of dollars in potential losses in 2009.
The Dubai Inc. system enables the ruling family in Dubai to use Emirates as an arm of the state: Emirates is driven not by market forces, but by the UAE government’s pursuit of its own broader economic objectives.