Tackling Gulf Airspace Congestion [VIDEO]

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The success of the aviation industry in the Middle East is creating increased demands on an already extremely complex air traffic environment.

Dubai Airport
Emirates Airline fleet at Dubai International Airport. Photo-Dubai Airports

The region has experienced incredible growth in air traffic over recent years. In fact Dubai has recently overtaken Heathrow as the world’s busiest international airport and at its current rate of growth is projected to handle nearly 100 million passengers per year by 2020. Whilst the growth is exciting, the airspace is becoming increasingly congested.

Airspace is a critically important structural and economic asset for a country and just like other assets needs careful management to get the most value from it. Airports will only ever be as efficient as the airspace that serves them and the Middle East will undoubtedly need to address the capacity challenge it faces to fulfill its true potential.

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VIDEO:  Flight paths across the Middle East region (courtesy: NATS)

This video visualises 24 hours of air traffic across the Arabian Gulf. It shows approximately three thousand flights and is taken from a period spanning 4am to 4am (UAE Time Zone) across the 28th and 29th of November 2013

This visualisation created from real flight data, shows the air traffic highlighting the intensity of the operation in the Gulf region covering the major airports including, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, Kuwait, Riyadh and Bahrain.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/90787669]

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Tackling air traffic management issues was high on the agenda for this year’s Global Aerospace Summit.

The panel responded to the fact that the success of the aviation industry in the Middle East is creating increased demands on an already extremely complex air traffic environment. In order to avoid the capacity bottlenecks and operational inefficiencies, airspace constraints must be addressed through the development of cohesive performance-based regional network strategies.

The number of aircraft movements through United Arab Emirates’ airspace last year was more than 741,000, according to official figures. It is forecast to reach about 895,500 by 2015, 1.13 million by 2020 and by 2030 it will reach 1.62 million. Over 20 million passengers are expected to use Abu Dhabi Airport over the next few years. Al Maktoum International Airport is destined to eventually become the world’s largest with an annual passenger capacity of 160 million. Air travel to and from Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and elsewhere in the Gulf, is also forecast to rise rapidly.

Richard Deakin, Chief Executive Officer, NATS, the UK based air traffic management service provider, who has been invited as a panelist at the Summit commented: “Delays are becoming common place and will only increase as operations continue to grow. If we don’t work together to improve the efficiency of the regional air traffic network, the sustained success of the major regional air carriers could be at risk.”

Interestingly, while all involved parties seems to know the solution to tackle the airspace congestion – which is to come up with something similar to EuroControl – regional politics is cited as the main stumbling block for achieving it. A ’Gulfcontrol’ will require co-ordination and co-operation between government departments and crosses national borders, and the biggest fear for these stakeholders is losing their airspace control.

John Swift, Middle East Director, NATS says: “Because air traffic management in the region is planned separately by individual states, the airspace has become fragmented. Today in the Gulf, there is a patchwork of boundaries and airspace corridors which impacts on efficiency. ”

In the UK, NATS guides over two million aircraft through some of the busiest and most complex airspace anywhere in the world.  According to Swift, “the political discussions are often more challenging than the technical aspects.”

Greater co-operation between the Gulf countries is urged to successfully achieve something similar in the UK for example through close cooperation with its neighbours, on a number of key initiatives, including the creation of Europe’s first working Functional Airspace Block (FAB), where air traffic is managed according to operational needs, and not necessarily national boundaries.

Meanwhile, Airbus ProSky opened their first regional headquarters in the UAE. Airbus ProSky, the Air Traffic Management (ATM) subsidiary of Airbus, has set up a new regional headquarters in the UAE, serving as the focal point for the Middle East and North Africa. From this new base a dedicated team of ATM experts will be able to evaluate the current airspace across the region and work with the governments in partnership to identify and address their needs.  

Paul-Franck Bijou, CEO of Airbus ProSky, the Air Traffic Management (ATM) subsidiary of Airbus, commented: “The Middle East airspace is among the most important in the world due to its strategic location, being the gateway between East and West. With ever more new aircraft joining fleets in the region coupled with Middle East air traffic increasing by 8.2 per cent per annum, we are working towards enhancing the airspace to efficiently serve this increasing demand.”

Airbus ProSky will focus on enhancing Air Traffic capacity, increasing flight efficiency and improving access to airports. Modernising ATM systems is expected to generate significant environmental benefits such as saving some 13 billion litres of fuel per year, reducing around 29 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year as well as four million hours of delays.

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