Crowded skies in the Middle East

Aviation experts give their suggestions on how to solve the Middle East’s air traffic congestion problems at the recent Global Aerospace Summit

Ahmed Ibrahim Al Jallaf of the UAE’s GCAA.

Ahmed Ibrahim Al Jallaf of the UAE’s GCAA.

Air Traffic Management is the buzz-term at the moment. From the aircraft manufacturers to the individual state civil aviation governing bodies, all recognise the need to put proper measures in place to alleviate congestion and delays. At last month’s Global Aerospace Summit, held in Abu Dhabi, several industry figures offered their thoughts on how to work together to solve the region’s air traffic management issues.

The already congested GCC air space is expected to more than double air traffic movements by 2030. The UAE, for example, which currently manages 2,200 movements per day, is forecast to have 4,600 daily movements by that time. To compound the problem, 49% of the country’s air space is reserved for military use. Whilst the growth rate in the other Gulf countries is not as high, the same broad scenario applies.

Richard Deakin, CEO of UK-based NATS, a global provider of Air Traffic Management (ATM) services, says the Middle East is on a very similar journey to Europe with a very rapid growth in air traffic, and should view the problem holistically.

“One of the key things for unlocking some of the inefficiencies in the air space is to recognise this is a value chain. You can’t just solve one part of it, and hope a miracle will occur and everything will then become super-efficient,” says Deakin.

“One of the challenges found in Europe is that, whilst a lot of the technology exists, pulling that together in a fairly challenging political context is really where the prize lies. So it is not about how efficient you are in your own country, it is about how efficient you are at the borders and how efficient your neighbours are.  And that is the key to unlocking some of the challenges that we see today.”

Ahmed Ibrahim Al Jallaf, assistant director general, Air Navigation Services of UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) agrees. His organisation commissioned Airbus ProSky to conduct a study into the Air Traffic situation. The results of the study were presented last year with 53 recommendations to help the country alleviate the problem until 2030. However, as Al Jallaf found, the issue could not be solved by acting independently of the neighbouring states.

“We started looking at the air traffic management efficiency and safety a few years back and we started working together through the establishment of a national airspace committee consisting of all the stakeholders, regulators, service providers, airports, and airlines as well as the military authorities,” says Al Jallaf.

“We achieved a lot, but we later realised that with the issue of air space, we cannot work in isolation, there has to be collaboration within the region.”

In that respect, a joint Middle East ATM enhancement programme was proposed, he reveals. The first meeting was held in February with representatives from most of the region’s states attending, along with global aviation organisations. Al Jallaf was nominated as chairman of the new initiative.

NATS’s Deakin, whose firm primarily handles ATM at the UK’s airports, has seen his share of such initiatives. His advice to the region: “From a personal point of view, the limitations of these groups is that they are political bodies. They are not created by Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). ANSPs have been forced into Functional Airspace Blocks that sometimes don’t create harmonious groups.

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