x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

GCC invests in air-safety technology to help navigate region’s crowded skies

Such investments are needed to match record orders in aircraft being made by Arabian Gulf carriers, as well as vast expansions in airports.

An Emirates Airlines aircraft lands at the Emirates terminal at Dubai International Airport. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh
An Emirates Airlines aircraft lands at the Emirates terminal at Dubai International Airport. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

The GCC is investing in an array of sophisticated air-space management technology to help aircraft safely navigate ever-more crowded regional skies.

Such investments are needed to match record orders in aircraft being made by Arabian Gulf carriers, as well as vast expansions in airports.

Raytheon, the US defence and industrial manufacturer, has already supplied state-of-the-art art traffic management equipment to Dubai Airports, the company operating the emirate’s two commercial airports.

In February, it launched its AutoTrac III automation system in the emirate, managing approach and departure services for Dubai International, the world’s fourth-busiest airfield. It also guides planes at Al Maktoum International, Sharjah International, Ras Al Khaimah International and Minhad Air Force Base.

“Safety must remain the most essential concern in air traffic management,” said Jim McCoy, Raytheon’s vice president of air traffic management, during the Dubai Airshow.

“Maintaining the highest safety standards, while bringing predictive capabilities that increase efficiency, will create a more positive situation for everyone.”

Using radar, the system guides planes as they move between high-altitude jet routes and the airspace around airports.

Such airspace is forecast to become increasingly crowded. Aircraft movements in the skies over this country are set to almost double by 2030 to 1.62 million, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) warned in July.

More aircraft movements carry the risk of increased circling and other holding patterns above airports by aircraft waiting to land, and more delays for aircraft waiting to take off. Such delays carry a cost for airlines.

Raytheon’s system allows planes fly more direct routes and take more fuel-efficient approaches to airports.

Since Dubai Airports has been using the system, Mr McCoy said Raytheon had already received its feedback about air traffic management.

“We’ve been talking about the management of aircraft at the airport. You really don’t want to be backing away from the gate until you have a clear path for take-off,” he said.

One of the key features of Raytheon’s technology is that it gives air traffic controllers tools to predict conflicts up to 99 minutes ahead of time using information transmitted by the aircraft themselves.

“They can actually see into the future and solve problems before they happen,” said Bob Meyer, Raytheon’s director of air traffic management systems.

Raytheon is anticipating demand for the system elsewhere in the GCC as airport infrastructure expands.

Air traffic management technology onboard aircraft is also becoming increasingly more sophisticated, especially on modern GCC fleets.

Rockwell Collins, a US avionics and information systems technology firm, reports growing demand in the region for its range of systems that allow aircraft to fly safely through increasing congested skies.

“On the navigation side we have systems that improve the ability for aircraft to fly into ever tighter spaces,” said Aaron Child, the marketing manager, commercial systems marketing in the EU, Middle East and Africa.

Such a system also helps aircraft find more direct routes, saving on fuel costs.

But the technology may not be as effective as it could be unless the GCC can come up with a more coordinated air traffic management system, said Hussein Dabbas, the regional director of the International Air Transport Association, the industry body.

“There’s a need for a better air traffic management system or there is a risk of stifling growth in the aviation sector and the profitability of airlines,” he said.

tarnold@thenational.ae