Next month, NATS will open the first of our offices in the Middle East in what will be major milestone for us.
Over recent years NATS has completed projects in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE, but having offices in the region is a sign of our commitment to working in partnership with the rest of the aviation community in harnessing air traffic management as an engine for growth within the Middle East.
The region’s challenges with airspace congestion have been well documented and I will not go through them here again. It is time to move on and to begin pursuing solutions and opportunities. In many ways the Gulf is on a similar journey to Europe – increasingly busy skies with an airspace structure that doesn’t support efficient air traffic management.
And like in the Middle East, there are efforts underway to address these issues in Europe, but initiatives like Functional Airspace Blocks have had limited benefit because they are largely politically and not operationally driven.
While there is widespread consensus that ultimately something akin to a ‘Gulfcontrol’ is required to act as an overarching coordinator, realistically that is not something that is likely to happen in the immediate future. Instead we – as the aviation community – need to focus more on creating operational partnerships based on a common set of customer-focused ambitions, just as NATS is currently doing with FlyDubai.
The challenge is to try and get some momentum going, but to do that on a cross border basis, rather than having countries focusing only on their own operations. One of the ways we have found to do that in Europe is to break things down and focus on specific projects. For example, optimising operations for city pairs on particular routes, or the international arrivals management trial we’re currently running at Heathrow with our colleagues in France, the Netherlands and Ireland to reduce holding times.
The key to unlocking some of the inefficiencies in the airspace is to recognise that it is part of a wider value chain. It is not about how efficient you are in your own country; it is about how efficient you are at the borders and how efficient your neighbours are.
Positively, I see signs that this is now starting to happen here. Over the last year the aviation authorities of the GCC have refocused their efforts, with joint projects for the management of aviation data, and future plans for the management of airspace. Under the auspices of ICAO, and the Chairmanship of UAE GCAA Director of Air Navigation, Ahmed Al Jallaf, the authorities have created a regional platform to provide the basis for a collaborative approach towards the planning and implementation of projects in support of a regional air navigation strategy.
These efforts towards creating a streamlined, harmonised, efficient regional ATM system would generate wider benefits to all those countries involved, as well as demonstrating leadership to the rest of the world.
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