The IATA AGM touches down in the Middle East for the first time in more than a decade, where local carriers are now the powerhouse for the industry’s global growth. But there is a danger the region’s full potential will not be realised if airspace management issues are not addressed, warns IATA director general Tony Tyler.

“Over the last decade, the share of global traffic for the Middle East airlines has gone from 4% to 9%. That’s largely driven by the big three – Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad,” he says.

“This is a huge shift during a time when global traffic itself has been growing hugely, that’s quite astonishing.”

The Gulf’s unabated growth is being underwritten by large aircraft orders and ground infrastructure developments, but Tyler warns that this could all go to waste if airspace management is not expanded in parallel.

“If you have fragmented airspace then you’ve got to make sure that you operate it in an integrated way, and that isn’t happening to the extent that it needs to. There are problems already. They’re only going to get worse, unless something’s done about it.

“And that means – particularly here in the Gulf – the authorities need to look for solutions. Otherwise all this fantastic airport capacity will have been a waste, because you won’t be able to use it.”

Tyler views this as a top priority and IATA is engaged with the local authorities in the region “to see how we can help”.

While IATA’s airlines are enjoying improved trading conditions as they gather in Doha, there is one major issue “hanging over the industry”, says Tyler: “The disappearance of MH370. It must never happen again.”

IATA is working “hand in glove” with ICAO on an initiative around aircraft tracking, he says. “ICAO recognises that industry can often move forward much quicker than they can, and they’re very happy to work with us on that.”

Tyler emphasises that the tragic disappearance is a once in a 100 year event and must not cost “an extortionate amount” to fix. “We’ve got to make sure there are solutions that are affordable. We’ve had over 20 providers come up with offers of a solution,” he says.

“We need it to be performance based, that is it should be based on the outcome – that we know where your aircraft is all the time – not prescriptive so that airlines are not locked into one supplier or one modus operandi.”

The 100th anniversary of commercial aviation is a landmark that IATA will be celebrating throughout the AGM. It all started with a flight across Tampa Bay, Florida on 1 January 1914.

“Over that first 100 years we’ve built the ultimate global business. You wouldn’t have global if it wasn’t for aviation,” Tyler says.

“But not everyone in the business and those who have a big impact on the business thinks globally, and they need to. For the next century we’ve got to recognise that, and I’m going to be trying to talk them all into thinking globally.”

Speaking on the eve of the AGM, Tyler said he was looking forward to meeting face-to-face with his members over the next few days: “It always gives me a buzz to speak to the CEOs and hear what’s going on in their markets.

“And Qatar Airways is a fantastic host. [Chef executive] Akbar Al Baker has promised he’ll deliver an AGM we will never forget. And I’m sure he’ll deliver it.”

And as one observer joked, the outspoken airline boss has helped deliver a couple of those already!

Source: Cirium Dashboard