MidEast centralised air traffic control system is “a must”

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(Picture for illustrative purposes only)

(Picture for illustrative purposes only)

The Middle East should urgently push ahead with the development of a centralised air traffic control system or the growing congestion of the region’s airspace could become a major threat to growth in the aviation sector, a senior Dubai executive told Arabian Business.

The Middle East “absolutely” needs to implement a Europe-style centralised air traffic control system, HE Mohammed Abdulla Ahli, director general of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the Aviation Safety Culture Conference in Dubai.

“It is a must,” he said, adding that discussions on the issue were currently taking place between GCC members and their wider Middle East partners.

“They are talking among GCC countries and it is not going to be limited to the GCC but some neighbouring countries. We had some problems with one of our neighbours because they have some issues with air traffic control [and] it is affecting us… We have to help each other and we talk together to make one unit.”

Solving the issue of congestion is “the biggest challenge” for aviation authorities in the region, Ahli said. “[A centralised air traffic control centre] is a must and has to come or there will be no growth in this area,” he warned.

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are some of the world’s largest buyers of new aircraft, but their fleet growth may be in doubt if Gulf states don’t funnel more cash into modernising air traffic systems, some leading global aviation experts have said.

“There will be areas of congestion,” Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing, warned in 2011. “The real issue is will the governments be able to finish off these plans in a way that will accommodate the growth going forward. The plans are in place and the direction is going in the right way - but it is now time to deliver on those plans.’

Nearly 2,000 flights in the UAE took place every day during August 2012, with almost half of the flights taking place to and from Dubai, according to data from the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). At the same time, Boeing expects Middle East carriers to add around 2,400 new aircraft to their fleets over the next 20 years, putting further pressure on the region’s aerospace. Tinseth’s comments echo those of Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths who also said “yawning gaps” in airspace management posed a major obstacle to Gulf aviation growth.

US-based Raytheon, which claims a 60 percent share of the global air traffic management market, said cutting the time and space between take-offs and landings would boost efficiency. “A big part of future capacity is not more runways [but] closer spacing,” said Andy Zogg, vice president of command and control systems. There is “no question” more capital must be directed into this market, he added.

In a bid to speed up landings and reduce delays, Ahli said Dubai set up a black list of aircraft which were not up to standard. “We have reduced all those that create a delay in approaching and endanger or make a lot of noise. We will not allow them to land. We will give them timing and then we stop them,” he said.

The director general added there was strong political will to solve the issue of aerospace congestion. “We do have that, we have some committee going on and sometimes we face some difficulties from the neighbours because of the situations in the world now. It is very interesting to us and we are working. This is the big challenge we are facing.”

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