I don’t think that there can be any doubt that the biggest challenge affecting the aviation industry in the Middle East is congestion. With the rapid growth of Air Arabia, Emirates, Etihad, FlyDubai and Qatar Airways, the infrastructure to support that growth is under ever increasing pressure.

Whilst new terminals can more effectively process passengers, runway capacity remains a limiting factor, and airspace, the “invisible infrastructure”, is similarly constrained. You wouldn’t build a new airport without effective roads or transit systems to allow passengers to get to and from it; efficient airspace is just as vital.

Airspace is an asset and just like any other it can be managed and maximised. That’s an idea that is becoming increasingly understood in the region and NATS has a team part way through a two year airspace design and implementation project at New Doha International Airport.

New Doha International Airport by Isapisa via Flickr

New Doha International Airport by Isapisa via Flickr

Likewise in the UAE, we’ve completed an operational performance summary at Dubai International Airport as well as developing a concept of operations and procedure design for the new Al Maktoum International Airport.

Increasing airspace capacity and effectiveness will ensure that arriving and departing passengers will benefit from on time performance. However of greater note, for Emirates, Etihad and Qatar especially, is that hub passengers are guaranteed to make their onward connections with no disruption to their journey.

It’s a simple truth that happy passengers who arrive on time and can make their connections are good for business, both for the airlines and the airport.

There is also definitely an immediate issue in the UAE especially regarding to the segregation of civilian and military airspace. Both obviously need airspace to carry out their vital business and national defence operations, but many European countries, including the UK, have adopted the principle of Flexible Use of Airspace.

This means airspace is no longer designated as purely “civil” or “military”, but considered as one continuum and allocated according to user requirements. In the UK civil and military controllers sit side by side, this means we’re better able to fully exploit airspace as a resource. It is an approach that the region could certainly benefit from.

[Header image by Elmar Bajora via Flickr]


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Terry Fulton

The mistakes made in the past have always been that studies have been done into Middle East airspace, route design and resultant capacity enhancement from either an Airport/Approach perspective (usually with the report paid for by the airport authority so perceived by others to be skewed to the airport operator and approach/tower service provider’s benefit over others e.g. Enroute Air Navigation Service Providers) or from an external perspective with little or no understanding of the undercurrent of political struggle between all the players involved.

There are answers to the airspace congestion and capacity issues in the UAE and neighboring Oman and Bahrain FIRs but its a matter of getting buy in, engagement and a degree of ownership from all those parties in the collaborative decision making process that has always stood in the way of that solution materializing.

Best of luck

Thanks for your comment, Terry.

I have said for some time that many of the issues faced in the region are due to fragmentation, and that addressing them in isolation is like building a six-lane highway to the border, and having cars queue to join the single track road on the other side.

The solution will, as you say, require regional cooperation, and the support of specialists engaged in each of the participant countries, with a thorough understanding of the social, political and economic issues faced. Whilst challenging, if we look beyond our own industry, there are examples of regional collaboration in recent years, such as the overland oil pipelines providing an alternative to sea routes through the Straits of Hormuz, as well as the pan Arab railway projects.

I accept that the oil pipeline project was a unified response to a shared threat, however I see greater recognition of the threat posed by airspace congestion, and hope it leads to further collaboration across the region.


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