The Gulf’s airports may be growing fast but, as traffic to and from the region increases, its skies are becoming increasingly congested and difficult to manage. Seeking a solution to this problem has long been an issue for governments wary of letting go control of their national airspace.

A report from Oxford Economics – commissioned by UK air traffic management body NATS – concludes that $16.3 billion in economic benefits could be achieved in the Middle East as a result of improved air traffic control systems.

Despite the huge growth in aviation in the region, available airspace has not kept pace, argues the report. With half the airspace in the Middle East reserved for military flights, the number of handovers that take place between authorities in different divisions of airspace lead to additional delays, says Oxford Economics.

Using data from Eurocontrol and NATS, Oxford Economics calculates that the average flight in the region is delayed by 36min with 82% of these delays attributable to air traffic control capacity issues.

“By 2025, without further investment in air traffic control systems, a doubling of delay minutes to 59min would cost the region $16.3 billion,” says the report.

Last year, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker described the failure of Gulf states to harmonise their airspace as “an accident waiting to happen”.

Speaking at the Arab Air Carriers Organisation gathering in Dubai, he said the existence of six flight information regions, when traditionally one, Bahrain, controlled most of the penninsula, was “causing congestion and bottlenecks and costing us millions in unnecessary fuel spend”.

At the same meeting, a proposal for a pan-Arab air traffic control system was floated, but the idea has not gained much traction.

Speaking at the AACO event, secretary general Abdul Wahab Teffaha described ATM as the “most important” weakness facing the region. He said that adopting more flexible use of airspace – notably capacity which could be secured from the military – and renovating air navigation systems would help relieve bottlenecks.

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Source: Flight International