x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Carriers pursue passage to India

A new air traffic control facility shows a commitment to the open skies approach, with Pakistan also a focus of the expansion plan.

The new air traffic control centre in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Centre, cost Dh300 million.
The new air traffic control centre in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Centre, cost Dh300 million.

Aviation officials are pressing India and Pakistan to give Emirati airlines more landing slots to ensure new source markets for their rapidly growing fleets. Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline, flydubai and Air Arabia have all pinned their expansion plans on carrying more travellers from the subcontinent to the Gulf, Europe and North America.

"They are growing and we also have new airlines starting," Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), said during a tour of the new Dh300 million (US$81.6m) air traffic control facility in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Centre. "We need to find a market for the aircraft they are ordering." India was one of eight nations the UAE met at the Conference for Air Service Negotiations in Istanbul last month, a type of speed-dating event for countries to hold preliminary talks with a variety of other countries over a short amount of time.

Over the three-day event, officials also met Turkey, Korea, Norway, France, Fiji, Bangladesh, Zambia, Ethiopia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Dominican Republic. The talks between the UAE and India went well and more concrete negotiations would happen shortly, Mr al Suwaidi said. "We have been promised there will be more talks soon and we are waiting for that," he added. The UAE is one of only a few countries to follow an "Open Skies" policy, or allowing unlimited access by foreign carriers into UAE airspace and airports, which helped drive the development of its aviation sector as more than 130 foreign carriers fly to UAE airports.

Later this month, the civil aviation body will meet the Somali government to forge an air services accord. Last year, the UAE signed new agreements with several nations, including Iran. That accord allows UAE airlines up to 215 weekly flights to five Iranian cities, a 50 per cent increase from existing allotments. But some governments, for reasons such as propping up ailing national carriers by protecting them from competition, have more restrictive rules for foreign carriers. The UAE hopes to speak with some of these countries, which include Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The UAE has 41 open sky agreements with other nations and has signed 126 air service agreements, the GCAA said. "We are hoping for more open sky agreements, this is our ultimate goal," Mr al Suwaidi said. "Sometime it is very difficult for them to accept this due to their own considerations, but if we are not given that kind of right, then we look for more traffic rights." The UAE has seen daily aircraft movements rise dramatically since 1986, when the Government first began tracking the data, from 342 daily average movements to more than 1,650.

As a result of the growth, the UAE has begun to plan for an even busier airspace in the future and this week held a tour of its new air traffic control centre, which will be able to handle the next two decades of airline growth, with positions for 76 air traffic controllers and the capacity to oversee two million flights per year. In addition, new equipment and systems will enable the GCAA to begin assisting airports in Dubai and Sharjah to manage aircraft descents for landings, officials said.

igale@thenational.ae