Friday, February 17, 2012

Dubai from the sky – no runway required

Seawings, an aviation tourism company has long established itself as a "must-do" for Dubai tourists. Stuart Wheeler, CEO of Seawings describes why the flight is an experience of a lifetime for both residents and tourists alike. 

The Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa is possibly the nicest airport in the world. It's 9.30am and the sun is shining on the dew-covered lawns, holidaymakers are just beginning to stretch out on their sunbeds and we're walking down a gangplank to a nine-seater Cessna Caravan Amphibian resting gently on the water. We've been brought here in a golf buggy and all our baggage will follow by road, so there's none of the usual struggle - although we have had to show our passports and be scanned by metal detector. Once we're all on board and strapped in, our American pilot James adjusts his elaborate controls but doesn't overdo the formalities. "Good morning," he says. "Our flight to Ras Al Khaimah will take approximately 45 minutes and I'm sure you'll all get some nice shots."

It's hard not to, as every seat is a window seat - although on this flight, those on the right get a better view. Normally, Seawings' scenic flights do a huge loop around the Burj Khalifa; this time we're flying more directly up the coast. Yet it's still unexpectedly spectacular. We take off smoothly from water and fly straight over the Palm Jebel Ali, its bare fingers of sand reaching out like a giant spider. The enormity of Jebel Ali Port and Free Zone, with its hundreds of thousands of containers, and the industrial Jebel Ali power plant, balanced by the runway-like Sheikh Zayed Road stretching out below us, have the effect of making the Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Dubai Marina developments, which had loomed in the distance, seem small in comparison.

We're flying at a maximum height of 600 metres - some 200m lower than the top of the Burj Khalifa - so the level of detail we get as we fly over the Palm Jumeirah is such that we can see sunbeds on hotel beaches, boats in marinas, palm trees on roads and the shadows of villas on sand. Taken in isolation, Atlantis looks like a scale model, the Aquaventure water park like a small garden. But looking back across the palm to JBR, the Palm Jumeirah looks like an alien spacecraft landed on water. The World islands resemble the Maldives, yet our attention is soon drawn to the Burj Khalifa towering to our right, then the beachside villas to our left, which, when we pan across them with our iPhones, look almost like southern California.

We sweep out east over Dubai Creek across the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. "Flamingoes!" shout those on the right of the plane - but I can't see any. Back to the west coast and Umm Al Quwain's small seaside villages look picturesque from the air. Then suddenly things turn wild - thin spits of land surrounded by shallow turquoise water and empty beaches, sand dunes, islands and the occasional villa. The pattern of swirling greens and browns is beautiful and disorientating. In Ras Al Khaimah the artificial coastal developments restart and soon the city is below us. We land on a scenic creek and skim across the water; startled dhow fishermen stare. We're met by staff from the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa as if it's the most normal thing in the world. I could, indeed, get used to this.

Seawings ( offers a Ras Al Khaimah Northbound Experience from Dh1,119 per person, including taxes. Double rooms at the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa (; 07 228 8844) cost from Dh540 per night, including taxes.

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