The Arabian Gulf states, which are in the midst of game-changing multi-billion dollar airport expansions to handle 450 million passengers by 2020, are grappling with mitigating the airspace bottlenecks and increasingly looking towards innovative technology and solutions to keep the growth clear of crowded skies.
The civil aviation authorities in the region, which boasts of 16 globally-competitive international airports, have been good at finding ways and means for their airports expansion drive, but are left to face near-acute constraints in finding new ways out for ensuring more effective Air Traffic Management (ATM) by introducing more air corridors and other technology-driven initiatives to decongest the airspace as the region emerges as the new global travel crossroads.
One factor that will be contributing to the mounting problem is accelerating growth in aircraft movements in the Middle East, which according to ICAO, IATA and ACI is witnessing a rapid aviation growth, far above the global average rate. The UAE airports are projected to have 1.62 million aircraft movements by 2030, while the overall Middle East region will witness 2.3 million aircraft movements in 2025. The ICAO predicts a 5.2 per cent annual growth in regional air traffic until 2030.
Middle East carriers are set to spend a whopping US$450 billion on 2,520 aircraft by 2030, taking the number of passenger aircraft from 1,060 to 2,710, an incredible increase of 160 per cent. Emirates Airlines alone is aiming at 70 million passengers in 2020.
Officials say the airspace will come under enhanced pressure with Dubai getting the rights to host the Expo 2020 whose three-fourth visitors are expected to be from outside the UAE.
Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), remarked: “Airspace is part of the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system; we cannot take it in isolation from the rest of the system components. To improve the system many other areas have to be collaboratively improved such as the airport design and operations. We are working to improve ATM efficiency in the region through an airspace enhancement and restructuring programme.”
According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the investment in developing new facilities and expanding existing airports to meet the demands of the region’s fast-growing airlines has resulted in airspace capacity becoming an ‘emerging’ issue as current constraints limit capacity and force ‘inefficient’ routings. It says as airspace becomes more of a scarce and sought after resource, states need to take a ‘balanced’ approach to airspace management and the need to accelerate implementation of Flexible Use of Airspace is becoming a necessity.
The ICAO says the airspace to the northern part of Bahrain Flight Information Region (FIR) continued to be the busiest and most complex airspace in the Middle East, while the northern and eastern part of the Muscat FIR is also very complex along with the airspace in the HIL in Jeddah/Riyadh FIR. There also delays and bottlenecks in UAE’s Flight Information Region (FIR) due to heavy air traffic. In order to effectively manage air traffic in the UAE skies through to 2030, AirbusProsky has made 53 recommendations.
Ibrahim Ahli, Director of Dubai Air Navigation Services (DANS), said: “The importance of managing the UAE airspace efficiently is obvious, but the importance of harmonization with adjacent (and beyond) states is imperative. Without cooperation from these states, our growth will be hampered, and severe departures- as well as arrivals delays are inevitable.”
The UAE airspace system currently handles approximately 600,000 movements a year. By 2025 it needs to accommodate the range of 1.2 million movements. This target is broadly equivalent to the current volume of traffic handled in the New York or London areas, he added.
In line with recommendations of the Airbus Prosky study commissioned by the GCAA, two working groups have been formed to enhance the airspace capacity, of which one is led by DANS.
He said Expo 2020 will “certainly put more pressure” on the development of the airspace and that new technologies will support a more modern airspace development and management. “We are well equipped with the expertise and knowledge, but in this rapidly growing environment, we certainly require support from leading organisations in the industry. We have since many years built up relationships with prominent, well reputed companies, leading the development of Sesar and NextGen (in the EU and US respectively)”, he added.
A wide portfolio of the latest and most innovative Air Traffic Control (ATC) technology and solutions designed to make skies safer for air travel will be showcased to regional airport stakeholders at the 2014 edition of Airport Show at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC).
Daniyal Qureshi, Director, Airport Show, said: “There is no doubt that the biggest challenge affecting the aviation industry in the Middle East is congestion. Airspace is an asset and just like any other asset, it can be managed and maximised. This is where technology is coming into the big picture. At the Airport Show-2014, we will have a significant presence of companies that specialize in Air Traffic Control (ATC) technology and solutions.”
Amongst the global ATC players at the event this year, are ADB Airfield Solutions (Belgium), Cooper Crouse Hinds (US), Erni AGL and Europoles Suisse (both from Switzerland), Jotron AS (Norway) along with Bayanat Airport Engineering & Supplies , Ales FZCO, ARINC and Honeywell from the UAE.
The 14th edition of the Airport Show will be held in Dubai from May 11 to 13, 2014 with the support of DCAA, Dubai Airports and Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects (DAEP) among others.