x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Crowded Gulf skies threaten growth of region's aviation industry

Growing congestion in the skies above the Arabian Gulf is one of the most serious problems threatening the growth of the region's aviation industry, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Air traffic controllers keep an eye on the radar screen at Dubai International Airport. Stephen Lock / The National
Air traffic controllers keep an eye on the radar screen at Dubai International Airport. Stephen Lock / The National

Growing congestion in the skies above the Arabian Gulf is one of the most serious problems threatening the growth of the region's aviation industry, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Aircraft are already being frequently delayed on the ground or kept flying holding patterns above the region's airports for between 40 minutes and an hour, said Iata's director and chief executive, Tony Tyler.

He was speaking as the UAE took its latest measure to ease the congestion problem, by announcing the introduction of two new air routes between the UAE and Bahrain.

"This change in the airspace structure will increase the capacity of the airspace and facilitate the flow of traffic between UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain," the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said yesterday.

"The modification consists of introducing three routes instead of the current unique entry route in addition to the introduction of other changes in the procedures for handling traffic flow that will contribute effectively in decreasing airspace congestion."

"Since the establishment of the airspace of the UAE there was one single route linking the UAE to the kingdom of Bahrain," Saif Al Suwaidi, the director general of the UAE General Authority for Civil Aviation said.

"This change is a natural result of the large increase in air traffic movement in the UAE and the region. The introduction of three routes accommodates for the air traffic increase."

Speaking at Iata's annual meeting in Cape Town yesterday, Mr Tyler said congestion was a problem GCC governments were aware of.

"There is a problem with air space management [in the region]," said Mr Tyler.

"It is something governments there are going to have to resolve, because more capacity is certainly needed to cope with current growth, never mind the growth being predicted.

According to Hussein Dabbas, Iata's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, the problem is bottlenecks which delay the free flow of traffic, mainly into and through UAE and Omani airspace.

"The major problem is for traffic flowing east, towards India and Singapore," he said.

"It used to be most of the traffic flowed north to south, but now east, west traffic is growing. Success brings its own challenges, and one of them is for infrastructure to keep pace with demand."

The main stumbling blocks to easing congestion was individual governments' reluctance to surrender sovereignty over their own skies, and that more than 50 per cent of the region's airspace was controlled by the military.

"The interface with military airspace, and who controls who flies in your skies are the issues," added Mr Tyler. "But the governments in the region, particularly the UAE, understand this and are working closely together. There is no doubt there is a will to fix it."

The UAE airspace is among the smallest but most important airspaces in the world due to its strategic location between the East and the West, said Ahmed Al Jallaf, the executive director of the UAE's Air Navigation Services and chairman of the UAE National Airspace Advisory Committee.

It is controlled from the Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Centre, the largest and most advanced 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.

The centre hosts nine air traffic sectors and the approach air traffic services to Al Ain International airport.

"Improving the capacity of UAE airspace comes on top of our priorities," said Mr Al Jallaf. "Air Navigation Services Sector seeks to establish a smooth flow of traffic while ensuring the security and safety of airspace as well as the efficiency of operations."

 

dblack@thenational.ae