The GCC risks facing worsening air traffic congestion unless it can match the multibillion-dollar airport investments on the ground with a plan to manage the skies, Dubai Airports warns.
There was a need for a single air traffic management system to oversee both civil and defence aviation, said the company’s chief executive Paul Griffiths.
He was speaking after overseeing the opening this week of the passenger terminal at Al Maktoum International Airport, destined to eventually become the world’s largest airport with an annual passenger capacity of 160 million.
“Just like we’re addressing air infrastructure development we will need to address the air space in tandem with that,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll end up with having plenty of space on the ground but nowhere for the aircraft to go as the space in the air will not be adequate to deal with them.”
The warning comes as the Arabian Gulf’s limited air space is likely to become ever more crowded in the coming years by the expansion of several airports across the region and the strengthening of fleets by the leading carriers. Aircraft movement in the UAE’s skies would almost double by 2030 to 1.62 million, the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) warned in July.
“I will not tell you the truth if I say we have no problems with air space, we do,” said Mohammed Ahli, the director general of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority. “We [the UAE] are number one in the Middle East and Indian Ocean. Emirates is the second airline in the world as far as the size of it so this all makes the air space very busy.”
Mr Ahli said the UAE’s civil aviation authorities from different emirates and the military met regularly to coordinate air traffic management. Officials also met regularly with regional civil aviation authorities from the GCC to coordinate on the issue, he said.
The UAE airspace is among the smallest but most critical in the world because of the country’s strategic location between the East and West.
The airspace is controlled from the Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Centre, the largest and most high-tech air traffic management facility in the Middle East.
Opened in 2009, the centre handles more than 2,100 air traffic movements per day for the eight international airports in the UAE as well as the over-flying movements.
But Mr Griffiths said at a regional level, the GCC still lagged more mature aviation markets like Europe and North Africa in the amount of coordination between different civil aviation authorities.
“The best thing that needs to happen is an increased level of coordination between the various air traffic control centres to ensure we produce a single policy to try to create a single open skies,” he said.
“Instead of having individual components of the sky managed discreetly by civil, military and different areas of control in different countries, different airports you actually merge them either actually or virtually into a single air space area and you get the efficiencies of not having to hand off aircraft from one sector to another which creates better capacity, reduces delays and ultimately gives you a much better use of a limited airspace.”
The GCAA announced last week the completion of a report suggesting measures for managing air traffic in the UAE skies through to 2030. The 53 recommendations made by Airbus ProSky, the air traffic management unit of the European plane maker Airbus, which completed the report, were not disclosed.
A build-up of air traffic above the UAE and the GCC has been described by the International Air Transport Association as one of the most serious problems threatening the growth of the aviation in the region.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat and Bahrain are all increasing the size of their airport capacity. Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, the region’s three biggest carriers, are expected to announce big expansions to their fleet in the coming weeks to help to cater for their growth plans.