Gulf air traffic close to 'choking point'

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The Gulf aviation market will soon reach choking point, preventing further growth, if authorities do not address regional air traffic control issues “very, very quickly”, the secretary-general of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation has warned.

“[Air traffic management] needs to go beyond international boundaries to start looking at possibly establishing a joint air traffic management body to manage the issue of air space,” Abdul Wahab Teffaha told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview from Beirut, the headquarters of AACO, which represents 31 airlines in the region.

“The governments need to pay particular attention to air space management in the region and they have to do it collectively.

“They need to address that very, very quickly and treat it as a highest priority, [considering] the plans for expansion.”

Regional air traffic control has been a concern for years but authorities from different Gulf states have been unable to agree on how to solve congestion issues as the industry expands at a rapid rate, particularly in the UAE, Qatar and soon Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East has recorded the highest passenger growth rates each quarter for some time, according to the International Air Transport Association. It was more than 12 percent during 2013.

A year ago, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority director general Mohammed Abdulla Ahli told Arabian Business the region “absolutely” needed to implement a Europe-style centralised air traffic control system to avoid constraining growth in the aviation sector.

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths also has implored civil aviation authorities to urgently address the issue.

Meanwhile, Emirates Group president Gary Chapman said during the Arabian Hotels Investment Conference in May tha “archaic” air traffic rules caused airlines to waste up to 10 percent of fuel on each flight.

Taffaha said he did not know what was preventing Gulf authorities from reaching an agreement.

“I understand this is a very, very sensitive issue – air space is part of the sovereignty of nations,” Taffaha said.

“[But] priorities numbers one to 10 should be the air traffic management systems because everything that’s being done may reach capacity point if the air traffic management system isn’t fixed.”

He said the region had no other pressing issues, with a modern taxation environment and airport expansion plans already being dealt with “efficiently”.

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