Several factors, including an expanding population, a growing industrial base and the increasing number of tourists visiting the emirate are driving Ras Al Khaimah’s transport industry forward. RAK’s population jumped from 258,000 in 2008 to 279,000 in 2010, according to the most recent figures from the RAK Department of Economic Development (RAK DED). This represents growth of 8% in just two years.

More than 800,000 tourists travelled to the emirate in 2011, and the RAK Tourism Development Authority (TDA) expects this figure to climb to 1.2m in 2012. To accommodate the increasing burden being placed on local transport infrastructure, seaports, airports and roads are being expanded, backed by significant investment.

SECTOR UPDATE: According to the most recent data from the RAK DED, the emirate’s transport, storage and communications sector contributed an estimated 6.55%, or about Dh1.15bn ($313.6m), to the economy in 2010. Although the industry’s contribution to GDP was slightly higher in 2009, at 6.8%, the sector still grew by around Dh24m ($6.5m) in 2010 from Dh1.13bn ($307m) the year before.

The sector also achieved notable growth in terms of gross fixed capital formation. The RAK DED estimates that the transport, storage and communications industry reached Dh488m ($132.8m) in 2010, which represents about 7.9% of the economy. Gross fixed capital formation in 2009 topped out at Dh431m ($117.3m), or 7.6% of the economy.

Further sector growth is evident by recent RAK DED data on the number of workers in the industry. The transport, storage and communications sector employed an estimated 8550 workers in 2010, an increase from about 8500 in 2009 and 8113 in 2008. The sector accounted for a little over 6% of the emirate’s total employment in 2010.

LAND UPGRADES: Ground links play a critical role in RAK’s economy, and recent investments in road infrastructure reflect this priority. In 2008 local officials introduced plans to invest Dh3bn ($816.6m) in an emirate-wide road improvement programme. Two of the largest projects are the RAK Ring Road, scheduled to be completed in 2020, and the Sheikh Khalifa Highway (SKH), which opened in late 2011.

The RAK Ring Road will connect all of the emirate’s external and internal road networks and redirect traffic away from RAK City. At a cost of Dh1.7bn ($462.7m), the SKH is a 40-km section of highway connecting Dubai and Fujairah and passing through RAK. The new road has reportedly decreased driving time between Dubai and Fujairah by one hour.

The Etihad Rail network will serve to further upgrade the emirate’s ground connections. According the Etihad Rail Company (ERC), the new network will stretch 1200 km across the UAE and cost Dh40bn ($10.9bn). The first phase of the project should be completed by 2014 and will allow freight traffic to be transported by rail. The project’s second phase will introduce passenger traffic. The network will connect major cities within the country and include links to Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Commodities such as cement, aluminium, steel, rock and iron, as well as hydrocarbons, will be carried to market on the new network. Although the ERC will use diesel trains to begin with, the network is being designed to allow for electrification in the future. The ERC has reported that freight trains will operate at 120 km per hour, with passenger trains moving at up to 200 km per hour.

MARITIME STRUCTURE: There are five ports in the emirate: Saqr, Al Jazeera, Al Jeer, RAK Khor and the new RAK Maritime City Free Zone (RAKMC). All five ports are being overseen by the Saqr Port Authority. Combining the ports under this single administrative body has enabled RAK’s maritime industry to increase overall efficiency by tailoring each port’s specialisation. Under the new management structure, Saqr Port focuses on handling bulk commodities, while Al Jazeera Port concentrates mainly on ship maintenance and repairs, having both dry docking and afloat facilities. RAK Khor Port provides warehousing facilities – hard-frozen and temperature-controlled, together with general warehousing and workshops and afloat ship repair facilities. Al Jeer Port facilities include general warehousing, livestock handling, a sailing club and leisure yacht marina. RAKMC functions as an industrial maritime free zone park with a harbour and private jetties.

SAQR PORT: Constructed in 1977, Saqr Port is located in the northern part of the emirate and is the first major port after entering the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz. With aggregate and rock, cement, coal, gypsum, petrochemicals, fertilisers, grain and animal feedstock passing through, the port handles over 90% of imports and exports entering and exiting RAK by sea. Containers also come through the port’s container terminal, which are equipped with three Panama-sized gantry cranes.

Saqr Port includes eight bulk berths, three container berths and one general-purpose roll-on/ roll-off berth. All berths have an alongside depth of 12.2 metres. For bulk and general cargoes, the port uses 13 mobile harbour cranes, each with a lifting capacity of 124 tonnes. Some 16 ha of open storage space, in addition to 42,000 sq metres of covered warehouse facilities, is available. The port complies with the International Ship and Port Security standards and has ISO 9001:2008 accreditation.

According to recent figures, Saqr Port handles around 1500 vessels per year. At roughly 1000 cargo ships per year, these vessels make up the majority of the port’s business, with barges accounting for the remaining 500 vessels per annum. Cargo traffic at Saqr Port increased from 25.9m tonnes in 2010 to 34.6m tonnes in 2011. The port forecasts that cargo volumes will increase in 2012 to over 42.5m tonnes. Exports make up roughly 87% of cargo handled at Saqr Port. Aggregate and limestone are the primary commodities shipped through the port, accounting for 66% of total throughput.

The port had a strong year in 2011, which is in part due to the large amounts of imported coal, and other raw materials such as clay and silica sand, all used by RAK’S manufacturing industries. In 2012 the port expects to handle large quantities of cement, which are bound for construction projects associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and for construction projects in Kuwait and Iraq. The port may undergo an expansion programme to facilitate the increase in cargo flow and to berth larger vessels.

AL JAZEERA PORT: Established in October 2003 by Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who ruled RAK until his death in 2010, Al Jazeera Port is located at Al Jazeera Al Hamra, some 10 km south of the RAK city centre. The port covers 450,000 sq metres of which 50,000 sq metres is devoted to the new dry dock complex. This new dry dock includes a synchronised ship lift with a capacity of 1100 tonnes, and 12 dry berths. Nine wet jetties measuring in total 1100 metres sit adjacent to the dry dock.

Al Jazeera Port also provides shippers with 74,000 sq metres of open storage space and 6200 sq metres of closed warehouse facilities. The warehouses are leased to private companies and will be used as workshops, or to store materials and tools for ship maintenance and repair operations.

The port specialises in handling small and medium-sized vessels, including offshore support ships and tugs. While a number of ports in the region offer dry docking services, Al Jazeera Port has a focus on smaller vessels. A total of 1897 ships moved in or out of the port during 2010, according to RAK DED data. This is higher than in 2009, when ship movements at the port reached 1678. Cargo traffic also increased in 2010, at more than 5m tonnes moving through the port, compared to the approximately 4.9m tonnes it saw in 2009.

RAK KHOR PORT: In 2004 Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi inaugurated RAK Khor Port. The facility is located near the city centre at the mouth of the RAK Creek, covering 325,000 sq metres. With eight berths, a draught alongside of 5.5 metres and 860 metres of quay wall, the port is able to handle general cargo vessels and barges, as well as small cruise ships.

In addition to general trading, the port has afloat vessel repair facilities and warehousing. RAK Khor Port also has covered warehousing of 28,000 sq metres, including two new hard-frozen, temperature-controlled units. Its open storage space measures around 60,000 sq metres.

RAK Khor Port also has a passenger cruise terminal with facilities for small adventure cruise ships. Immigration and visa issuance, Customs clearance and baggage handling services are all provided at this terminal, which is located near the city centre. These services are already playing a key role in the emirate’s push to develop cruise tourism. The RAK Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA), along with several key cruise ship operators, is planning to bring large cruise ships to the emirate. Indeed, RAK TDA hopes to attract at least 20,000 cruise tourists during the 2012-13 season, and a total of 50,000 to 60,000 cruise visitors in the period between 2012 and 2017.

AL JEER PORT: One of the newer ports, Al Jeer was built in 2009 and is located at the border with the Musandam, the northern province of Oman. The port has the emirate’s only specialised livestock inspection and quarantine facility handling imports by sea and by road. Al Jeer also has a newly opened, 266-pontoon berth marina and the Barasti Sailing Club. The marina has full services and club facilities for small sailing dinghies, larger sailing yachts and leisure cruisers. The facility’s stone wall quay measures 400 metres and the pontoon berths range in size from 10 metres to 45 metres. The port has 6800 sq metres of warehouse units, and immigration and Customs services are located nearby.

RAK MARITIME CITY FREE ZONE: The latest maritime facility in RAK, the RAKMC free zone is located about 25 km north of the city and lies adjacent to Saqr Port. Officially opened by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi in May 2011, this facility covers approximately 8m sq metres, the first phase of which cost Dh520m ($141.54m). The RAKMC harbour has a basin of 820,000 sq metres of water, with a new quay wall of 5000 metres. The harbour has a minimum depth alongside of 7 metres.

RAKMC was declared to have free zone status in December 2009. RAKMC provides access to a wide variety of free zone businesses, which take the forms of single-shareholder (FZE) or multiple-shareholder (FZC) companies, both of which have limited liability. In addition, RAKMC issues both manufacturing and commercial licences, and UAE residence visas are issued under the sponsorship of the free zone, together with free zone work permits.

Greenfield plots are leased by RAKMC and are available with a plot size minimum of 20,000 sq metres. A limited number of plots are available with a minimum private jetty of 100 metres. For these, the jetty is included as part of the leased area. Other plots are available with no access to the quay wall other than via the common user jetties.

The maritime industrial park is divided into several specialised zones – shipbuilding and repair, steel fabrication companies, tank farms and petrochemicals storage, construction material industries, general industrial, and warehousing and cargo operations. “Our objective is to be able to attract specific industries requiring access to the sea with a direct maritime connection,” said Captain Colin Crookshank, the group general manager of RAK Ports, at the port’s inauguration in May 2011.

AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS: The emirate’s airport is playing a key role in its developing transport sector as well as its growing tourism industry. To accommodate more passengers and cargo, RAK International Airport is investing $27m in upgrades. “With the rapid growth forecast for RAK International Airport, it is important that we focus our efforts on operating the airport as an airport business, not just a service,” Andrew Gower, the airport director of RAK International Airport, told OBG.

Plans include renovating the new passenger terminal, which will be dedicated to departures, while arrivals will take place at the older terminal building. Further upgrades include the improvement of aircraft maintenance facilities as well as the installation of new lights on the 3760-metre runway. In 2009 the facility opened a second cargo terminal with a capacity of 500 sq metres.

The airport is also designing a 10-year development plan, which could include investments worth Dh2.5bn ($680.5m). Though the improvement and expansions plans will not be finished for many years, the work already completed is having a positive impact on traffic volumes. According to the most recent data from the RAK DED, commercial and noncommercial aircraft significantly increased in 2010. Indeed, in one year aircraft movements grew by almost 20% from 8105 in 2009 to 9694 in 2010.

A total of 84,768 passengers travelled through the airport in 2010, according to the RAK DED. While around 32,000 passengers were in transit, over 29,000 were departing and 23,000 passengers were arriving. These figures represent substantial growth. In 2009 a total of 23,546 passengers moved through the airport, which indicates passenger traffic more than tripled between 2009 and 2010.

CARGO GROWTH: Cargo movement experienced the most dramatic growth at the airport in 2010. While 5523 tonnes of cargo were loaded and unloaded at the airport in 2009, this figure rose to 1.1m-plus tonnes in 2010. Only around 13,000 tonnes of the cargo was unloaded in 2010, illustrating the robust export industry. A similar export trend could be seen the previous year, with the majority of cargo – more than 5000 tonnes – having been loaded onto aircraft and only 341 tonnes having been unloaded, according to the RAK DED.

In 2008 the emirate’s national carrier, RAK Airways, temporarily discontinued service and the airport was undergoing some construction work. The combination of these two events resulted in a drop in passenger traffic at the airport in 2009. However, there was a significant increase in aircraft, passenger and cargo traffic in 2010 once RAK Airways commenced operations again.

RAK AIRWAYS: After a relatively short pause in service, RAK Airways relaunched in 2010 and has been growing steadily since. Originally established in 2006 by Sheikh Saqr, the firm is a private joint stock company that operates within the RAK Investment Authority Free Zone. With authorised capital of Dh1.5bn ($408.3m), the airline appears set to make a major contribution to the emirate’s transport sector. RAK Airways relaunched with flights to two destinations (Jeddah and Kozhikode, India) and two aircraft. Less than a year-and-a-half after resuming operations, the company flies to 12 destinations and operates five aircraft.

It plans to expand even further over the next five years, increasing its fleet to 12 aircraft and offering customers 38 destinations. The airline is currently in the process of developing a low-cost but full-service niche to target a diverse range of customers, including UAE nationals, tourists, and labourers and their families. “RAK has seen substantial economic growth in the past year, this has significantly increased the labour force creating a growing market that we as RAK Airways can cater to,” said Omar Jahameh, the CEO of RAK Airways. “This is coupled with the vast number of passengers that travel to other airports throughout the UAE.”

Despite its hiatus, RAK Airways showed sound indicators in 2011: it operated with a 75% load factor and was able to add to its market share. Furthermore, in late 2011 the company opened a sales office in the nearby emirate of Fujairah and began a complimentary bus service between the Fujairah office and RAK International Airport.

NEW ROUTES: RAK Airways has added a number of new destinations in the past several months. Direct connections to Lahore and Peshawar in Pakistan were announced in October 2011, with both flights beginning shortly thereafter. Increasing the number of destinations for RAK Airways to eight, the two new routes are flown twice a week.

The airline chose the two Pakistani cities due to high volume of traffic between the UAE and Pakistan. According to Routes Online, a firm specialising in flight route development, roughly 2.2m passengers flew between the UAE and Pakistan in the 12-month period preceding RAK Airways’ October 2011 announcement. This figure represented a 9.2% increase from the previous year.

Similarly, flights to Kuwait were announced in October 2011, and the airline introduced a new route to Khartoum, Sudan in December that year, bringing the total number of routes to 10. Twice-weekly flights to Kathmandu, Nepal also began in February 2012. RAK Airways also announced plans to break into long-haul flights with its 12th route to Bangkok. Scheduled to begin in summer 2012, the newest destination should be popular among UAE nationals. Indeed, according to a January 2012 RAK Airways press release, UAE nationals lead the GCC region in visits to Thailand, with the Tourism Authority of Thailand reporting that 110,000 UAE tourists travelled to the country in 2011.

In addition to its 12 scheduled routes, RAK Airways also operates a weekly charter flight to a number of destinations in Germany, as well as to Vienna, Austria. The TDA forecasts that the charter service will increase the number of tourists in RAK by 50,000 during the 2011-12 season. The service will continue except during the summer low season.

OUTLOOK: With a strong industrial sector and economy, an expanding population and an increasing number of tourists, RAK faces the task of improving its transport infrastructure to accommodate further growth. In line with this, road and rail networks are expanding, the emirate recently opened its fifth seaport and work to upgrade the airport and expand air traffic routes is also under way.

There are, of course, challenges to be overcome. High fuel prices, for example, pose problems. Yet the industry appears to be well on its way to addressing these issues, and the local government remains committed to the sector’s long-term development.