The Middle East – especially the Gulf – is a strategic location with significant transit volumes of air traffic. The region is both a destination and a crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe.
Civil aviation in the Middle East is constantly increasing and so is air traffic congestion. Airspace planning is, therefore, the most pressing concern.
According to the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts, the Middle East will continue to be one of the most dynamic regions in terms of passenger traffic, with a growth of 4.6% per year on average to 2034.
IATA emphasized the importance of overcoming the increasing congestion challenge in front of the leaders in its Aviation Day Middle East and Africa conference in Abu Dhabi last month.
The Director General and CEO of IATA Tony Tyler called on airlines and industry stakeholders to work together to find common solutions: “This is an issue where cooperation is absolutely paramount. The rapid growth of air traffic to, from and flying over the Middle East has increased by 13% per year over the last five years. This needs effective measures to avoid congestion,” said Tyler.
For the future, he said: “The next two decades will be exciting for aviation in the Middle East. We estimate that our growth in passenger traffic over the next 20 years in the region will be among the fastest in the world. The Middle East is expected to grow by 4.6% per year to become a market of 365 million passengers, while Africa will grow by 4.4% per year, reaching 280 million.”
The Single Sky concept for the Gulf States is in the early stages of discussions, but this should not be the immediate priority.
Improving air traffic control systems, according to a new report commissioned by NATS, the specialists of the management of air traffic – could bring $16.3 billion in economic impact in the Middle East over the next ten years.
The independent report on “economic benefits of improving air traffic control” was conducted by Oxford Economics, the global leader in forecasting and comprehensive quantitative analysis for business and government.
Air traffic in the Middle East is expected to grow at an annual rate of over 10% during the next decade, the skies above the region are becoming more crowded. Congestion also represents a major threat to the two million jobs that depend on aviation and, more generally, to the regional $116 billion-worth aviation business. The $16.3 billion in benefits could accrue 44% (or $7.2 billion) to passengers and 56% ($9.1 billion) for airlines (through faster trips).
Despite the enormous growth of aviation, government investments in increasing trade and tourism flows, available airspace in the region has not kept pace, the report said.
More than about half of the airspace in the Middle East being reserved for military flights, the number of transfers that take place between authorities in different divisions of the airspace may cause additional delays.
Although the report notes that the difficulties encountered are clearly recognised throughout the region, it goes on to say that “the pace of progress often does not respect the pace of continuing traffic growth”.
Using data from NATS and EUROCONTROL, Oxford Economics has calculated that the average flight in the region was delayed for 36 minutes and that 82% of these delays were attributable to the capacity of air traffic control and staffing issues.
In 2025, without further investment in air traffic control systems, flight delays would become double to 59 minutes and would cost the region $ 16.3 billion.
“As long as the Middle East diversifies its economy and focuses increasingly on international trade it is vital to ensure that the aviation is up to world class standards.
The region has enormous progress to make in investing in aviation. Is essential, however, that the “invisible” infrastructure of airspace is not forgotten.
Increased collaboration between the civil aviation authorities and the private sector has a long way to go to fill that gap.