Air traffic delays 'near crisis levels' in Middle East

IATA chief says region must avoid issues seen in Europe to build on aviation growth

Air traffic management and safety are key priorities for Middle East aviation officials as the region looks to build on its rapid growth over the past decade, a senior industry leader has said.

Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said growing traffic in the MENA region must be matched with sufficient airspace capacity.

“MENA must avoid the inefficiencies that we see in Europe. There is no room for complacency. In the Gulf, ATM delays are already nearing crisis levels," he said in a speech in Algiers.

"It would be a shame if the potential of the investment in ground infrastructure was held back by a lack of progress in the air. The experience of Europe should ring a clear warning. If congestion problems are allowed to grow they can quickly turn unmanageable. And the bigger they get, the more difficult the solution,” said Tyler.

He described the growth of Middle East airlines as an "an amazing story".

“MENA is a growing force in aviation. For example, over the last decade, the Middle East share of global international traffic has risen from about 5% to about 11.5%,” said Tyler.

“The rise of the Gulf carriers is an amazing story. They are leading Middle East traffic growth that is still in the double digits. And even if we look at the less-headline-grabbing carriers in North Africa, we are seeing a healthy demand performance,” he added.

Speaking at the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) Annual General Meeting, Tyler added that safety was also a "top priority" in the region.

"Governments of the Arab Civil Aviation Commission should be reminded of their commitment dating back to 2006 to make IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) compulsory for the carriers in their region. Flying is safe. But it is our collective responsibility to always make it safer,” said Tyler.

He praised the UAE where aviation supports some 15 percent of GDP and 14 percent of total employment.

"Building on world class infrastructure and business-friendly policies, the Gulf carriers are now extending their reach through alliances, equity stakes and innovative partnerships. I would encourage similar big thinking across North Africa to help spur economic development and GDP growth," added Tyler.

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