I’ve written a number of times about the challenges in the Middle East and about how airspace –the invisible but critical infrastructure – demands as much attention as any other aspect of the industry.
The region’s aviation industry is one of the most dynamic and exciting anywhere in the world, and if the airspace challenge isn’t solved it will never be able to realise its full potential. That will leave Governments, airports and airline investors increasingly frustrated and short changed, particularly as the Middle East seeks to diversify its economy.
While these challenges are recognised by experts throughout the region, we need to elevate the debate. Airspace must be considered as an economic asset and investment must be made as with any other pillar of the region’s infrastructure. It is to that end that NATS commissioned Oxford Economics to assess the economic benefits that improvements could offer to air traffic control in the Gulf Co-Operation Council countries, as well as Iran and Iraq.
The benefits of greater investment are significant; the report concludes that the region’s economies could benefit by over US$16 billion over the next 10 years.
Of the total benefits, 44% would be realised by passengers through faster travel times, and 56% by airlines through reduced fuel and operational costs; in theory this could be passed on to passengers through lower ticket prices and potentially generating increased demand.
Additional figures were provided for Qatar and Oman; Oxford Economics concluded that improvements in the countries air traffic control services would benefit their economies by over US$1.5 billion and nearly US$600 million, respectively.
The report calculated that the average flight in the region is currently delayed by 29 minutes due to air traffic control capacity and staffing issues. Based on a conservative forecast, Oxford Economics expect average delays to double to 59 minutes per-flight by 2025 unless action is taken to further enhance the efficiency of ATM operations.
The challenges faced by military and civilian authorities due to segregated operations; fragmented airspace management creating multiple handover points and airspace bottlenecks; and limited industry collaboration all create delay.
The investments made by Governments and the aviation industry to increase trade and tourism are rightly recognised. While the challenges are clear, Oxford Economics note ‘the pace of progress often does not meet the pace of continued traffic growth’. In other words, the challenges will become even harder as the region gets busier and will hold back its ambitions of increasing tourism, improving skills and employment, economic diversification and sustainability.
Collaboration between civil aviation authorities and the private sector will go a long way to closing that gap. NATS looks forward to being able to share our expertise in managing complex airspace to add to the local expertise that already exists in-region.
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