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UAE Goes All Out to Promote
U.S. Business, Charitable Links

by Anna Gawel

The United Arab Emirates Embassy has embarked on a major charm offensive in the United States to promote business ties while also showcasing a compassionate side to the lucrative bilateral relationship.

This month, Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, launched a media blitz in Washington, D.C., to tout its new nonstop daily service between Dulles International Airport and the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi.

Photos: Etihad Airways

Various officials took part in the Etihad Airways ribbon-cutting ceremony at Dulles International Airport launching the airline’s new nonstop direct service between Abu Dhabi and Washington, D.C., including, from left: Geert Boven, senior vice president of the Americas for Etihad; Shaeb Al Najjar, Etihad airport manager; Jack Potter, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; James Hogan, Etihad Airways president and CEO; Deputy Chief of Mission for the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington Omar Al Shamsi; U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Michael Corbin; Peter Baumgartner, Etihad chief commercial officer; and Haitham Al Subaihi, Etihad vice president of sales for mid-Atlantic U.S.A.

UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba has been on hand for many of the Etihad events, including a lavish gala dinner that featured a concert by Harry Connick Jr. for hundreds of well-heeled guests at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on April 1.

The next day, Al Otaiba switched gears and hosted a group of D.C. students at a groundbreaking for a new playing field at Marie-Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan.

The new state-of-the art, all-weather artificial turf field, which will replace one of the most heavily used fields in D.C., is a gift from the UAE Embassy and Manchester City Football Club, a professional English soccer team that’s owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Photos: Etihad Airways

From left, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba, President and CEO of Etihad Airways James Hogan, and U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Michael Corbin talk at the press conference launching nonstop flights between D.C. and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE and one of the fastest-growing trade and tourism destinations in the world.

In addition to the new playing field, Manchester City, whose lead sponsor is Etihad Airways, has a “City Soccer in the Community” program that provides after-school soccer coaching for local children.

Al Otaiba, a soccer enthusiast who’s instituted the program for inner-city youth at five U.S. cities, is one of the most charitable envoys in town, spearheading a major philanthropic campaign that ranges from disaster-relief projects in Missouri to a new surgical wing at Children’s National Medical Center. (For more on the embassy’s philanthropic efforts, see “For UAE, It’s Better to Give Than to Receive” in the December 2012 issue of The Washington Diplomat.)

In fact, the UAE — a federation of seven emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi — is one of the world’s largest donors of foreign aid in proportion to its gross national product. That largesse shouldn’t be too surprising given the UAE’s economic prosperity and, in particular, Abu Dhabi’s tremendous oil and gas wealth, which has made it a Persian Gulf powerhouse. Gross domestic product is forecast to grow by an average of 5.7 percent between 2013 and 2016, and annual per-capita GDP stands at an impressive $50,000.

Photos: Etihad Airways
The official inaugural flight of Etihad Airways arrives at Dulles International Airport.

But the country has also worked to diversify its economy away from oil, which was discovered more than 30 years ago. Interestingly enough, the United States does not import a single drop of oil from the UAE, even though the country boasts the world’s seventh-largest reserves of both petroleum and gas — the source of much of its wealth.

Still, the economic links between the United States and UAE are robust, with nearly $20 billion in two-way trade last year, nearly $16 billion of which was U.S. exports such as aircraft and computers (also see U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council Touts Billions in Bilateral Trade” in the February 2013 issue of The Washington Diplomat). In fact, the Abu Dhabi government spent an astounding $6 billion on Boeing jumbo jets in 2012, principally for the UAE’s two dominant airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

So it’s not surprising that Etihad is going all out to show off its new D.C. connection — the fourth North American destination for the airline after New York, Chicago and Toronto.

“The UAE is one of the most important political and trade partners of the United States, and this is the first nonstop flight between the two cities,” James Hogan, president and CEO of Etihad Airways, said at an April 1 press conference launching the route.

“Government and corporate customers have given us strong indications that the Washington-Abu Dhabi route can support a daily service from day one,” he added, noting a $6.8 million investment to build a premium lounge next to Etihad’s permanent gate in Terminal A at Dulles International Airport (also see “Mideast Business Boom Fuels Global Expansion at Dulles” in the March 2013 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

Photos: Etihad Airways
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, flanked by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to his left, welcomes students to the groundbreaking of a new playing field at Marie Reed Elementary School.

That lounge is part of a $50 million investment over the next 12 months to build premium lounges at major destinations across Etihad’s expanding global network. And premium is exactly what fliers can expect aboard the luxury airline, whose ultra-long-range Airbus A340-500 aircraft can seat 240 passengers in a spacious three-class cabin configuration.

Top-tier services abound during the 13-hour, 30-minute journey to Abu Dhabi, which is a growing gateway for connecting flights to key destinations throughout Southeast Asia and North Africa.

Photos: Etihad Airways

A new state-of-the art, all-weather artificial turf field Marie Reed Elementary School, which will replace one of the most heavily used fields in D.C., is a gift from the UAE Embassy and Manchester City Football Club, a professional English soccer team that’s owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Washingtonians got a taste of those onboard perks at the Mellon Auditorium gala, where Etihad Airways executive chef Thomas Ulherr led 11 of his classically trained first-class in-flight chefs (flown in for the dinner) to prepare an elaborate Arabian-inspired menu.

The airline employs more than 100 chefs, many of whom have worked at the world’s best restaurants. As guests nibbled on braised lamb shank and sea bass, Ambassador Al Otaiba said the new nonstop flight “is a reflection of the strong ties between the UAE and the U.S., and it will help expand trade, enhance diplomacy, broaden cultural understanding and deepen the friendship that binds our countries and our communities closer together.”

Photos: Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways first-class chefs attended to guests during the airline’s D.C. inaugural gala dinner held at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

Against a vastly different backdrop the following day, he said the new playing field at Marie Reed Elementary School is a sign of friendship between the two countries that will help the local community.

“I can’t imagine a better place for this new field, right here in the heart of Washington, D.C.,” Al Otaiba said. “Marie Reed Elementary School and this park are cornerstones of Adams Morgan, and we are excited to construct a field that will give kids more access to soccer and benefit the entire community.”

Photos: Etihad Airways
An Etihad guest services lounge agent greets fliers at the airline’s new 5,200-square-foot lounge that opened in early April at Dulles International Airport. At a cost of $6.5 million, the lounge features gourmet buffet and à la carte dining; business center with large-screen Apple computers and complimentary wi-fi; a family room; bathrooms and showers; and male and female prayer rooms.

Etihad CEO Hogan shared that sentiment. “Etihad Airways has a proud tradition of hosting grassroots sporting events with our partners Manchester City Football Club,” he said. “The Etihad Airways Soccer Schools have helped the development of hundreds of children from a range of backgrounds in countries that include Nigeria, the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates. Therefore we’re delighted to continue this path and be part of the groundbreaking for the new field here … which will give local youngsters the chance to play and excel at sport all year round.”

About the Author

Anna Gawel is the managing editor for the Washington Diplomat and a columnist for the Diplomatic Pouch.



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