Qatar's rate of development is staggering. Cranes and construction crews are in motion from day to night churning out high-end development projects and futuristic skyscrapers.

A state-of-the-art new international airport was recently opened, the government is working on a new port and infrastructure improvements like a light rail system are in the planning stages in preparation for the World Cup 2022.

Qatar is working to put itself on the map as an international travel hub, business center and tourism destination. A pivotal part of that strategy is aviation.

The Middle East has recognized it is geographically poised to be the new crossroads of global travel with billions of people living one direct flight from the Middle East to include a growing middle class in China and India.

Dubai is on the cusp of overtaking London's Heathrow Airport as the busiest airport for international visitors. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Middle East airlines saw passenger demand growth of more than 18 percent in April, more than twice that of any region in the world.

Qatar Airways, the state-owned flag carrier, is moving at a feverish pace to direct international tourism and cargo through its capital city of Doha, buying hundreds of planes and opening new destination routes worldwide.

It is a startling and swift transformation for the small Middle East country. Below you will learn more about Qatar -- its history, its successes and its challenges:

BACKGROUND

Qatar is an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s.

The small peninsula, roughly the size of Connecticut, extends into the Persian Gulf sharing a land border with Saudi Arabia.

Its economy has evolved from fishing and pearling to oil and natural gas production, which has fueled large-scale development projects and catapulted Qatar to the top of the list of the world's wealthiest nations.

Qatar boasts the world's highest income per capita with one of the lowest unemployment rates.

The Central Intelligence Agency suspects that its immense wealth has shielded the country from experiencing the kind of domestic unrest or violence seen in other parts of the region.

Fun Fact: The Oryx is the national animal of Qatar and the logo for Qatar Airways.

During the global financial crisis, Qatar made direct investments into domestic banks to protect the local banking sector. While private and foreign investment in non-energy sectors are on the rise, oil and gas still account for more than 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Formerly a British protectorate, Qatar gained independence in 1971.

The State Department describes diplomatic relations with Qatar as "strong, with the United States and Qatar coordinating closely on a wide range of regional and global issues ... together we support progress, stability and prosperity in the region."

Qatar has been a crucial player in America's regional security strategy. Relations between the United States and Qatar flourished during the Persian Gulf War when Qatar played a pivotal role in helping Kuwait during the invasion of Iraq. Qatar hosts the U.S. Central Command Forward Headquarters (CENTCOM), which The Economist describes as "the most critical of the constellation of American military bases around the Gulf, together serving some 35,000 American troops."

The airbase southwest of Qatar's capital city of Doha called Al Udeid is the base hub for logistics and command for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

CENTCOM is responsible for the "central” area of the globe, which consists of 20 countries -- Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, SaudiArabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The United States is Qatar's largest foreign investor and its single largest source of imports.

Exports from the United States to Qatar include aircraft, vehicles, optical, medical instruments and agricultural products.

Imports to the Unites States from Qatar include liquefied natural gas, aluminum, fertilizers and sulfur.

"According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the year-to-date value of U.S. exports to Qatar had reached $3.8 billion through September 2013, consisting mainly of transport equipment, manufactured goods, and machinery -- up from $1.9 billion over the same period in 2012. The year-to-date value of U.S. imports from Qatar, mainly oil, totaled $1 billion through September 2013, up from $763 million over the same period in 2012.” -- Christopher M. Blanchard, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, Congressional Research Service, Jan. 30, 2014

Qatar's terrain is mostly barren and flat desert. It has mild winters and very hot and humid summers. The extreme summer heat and common sandstorms have been another source of Fifa criticism for the organization's decision to grant Qatar the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup. Some fear it will be too hot, dangerously so, for both players and visitors. Air quality also an issue.