x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Warning sounded on gridlock in Arabian Gulf skies

Tony Tyler, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, wants to see military airspace given over for civilian use.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, left, the Emirates Group chairman and the president of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, speaks yesterday with Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, head of the Crown Prince Court Abu Dhabi, before the opening of the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, left, the Emirates Group chairman and the president of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, speaks yesterday with Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, head of the Crown Prince Court Abu Dhabi, before the opening of the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

The global aviation industry chief yesterday warned that the Gulf airline boom could turn to gridlock unless more military airspace is given over to civilian use.

He made his comments at the Global Aviation Summit in Abu Dhabi as airlines bosses from around the world met in the capital.

“Between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of the airspace is reserved for the military,” said Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata). “So we are trying to squeeze the fast-growing civil aviation component into a fraction of the airspace.”

Rapidly expanding airport hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are grabbing market share from longer-established rivals in Europe as more long-haul air traffic is routed through the Arabian Gulf.

Dubai International Airport recorded an 11.7 per cent spike in passenger traffic in February to more than 5.675 million. That represented the seventh consecutive month of double-digit growth. Abu Dhabi recorded an even sharper rise the same month as traffic surged by 15.6 per cent to more than 1.411 million passengers.

But sustaining such growth will become harder as the skies over the region become ever more crowded.

“One solution is developing partnerships and trust with the military to open more flexible use zones. That is happening progressively — but it is not keeping pace with demand for air travel,” Mr Tyler added.

Aircraft movements would almost double by 2030 to 1.62 million, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) warned in July.

UAE airspace is among the smallest but most critical in the world because of the country’s strategic location between East and West.

“Aviation in the Gulf is a great success story, but air traffic gridlock should not become its Achilles heel. Players in the region need to buy in urgently to envision the airspace management and work together as a team effort to make it happen,” said Mr Tyler.

But airspace given over to the military is only part of the issue according to Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, director general of the GCAA.

“The other problem we have is from the airport capacity,” he said. “Because of these constraints we are obliged to hold traffic in the air.”

As the Gulf’s big carriers challenge their European rivals, their governments should also learn from the mistakes of Europe, added Mr Tyler.

The single aviation market created enormous demand for air connectivity. But this was not matched with a single European sky, he said.

selgazzar@thenational.ae

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