‘Efficient use of GCC air space vital to tackle air traffic congestion’
June 01 2019 08:05 PM
Albakri at a media briefing on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Seoul
Albakri at a media briefing on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Seoul

Efficient use of GCC air space is a pressing need to tackle air traffic congestion in the region, which is a major challenge for Gulf and Middle Eastern carriers, says IATA regional vice-president (Africa and Middle East) Mohamed Ali Albakri.

“We have been talking to respective militaries through regulators in each of these countries to free up space for commercial use,” Albakri told Gulf Times at the COEX Convention & Exhibition Centre in Seoul on Saturday.

In 2015 and 2016 alone, the average delay per flight attributed to air traffic control issues (in the region) was 29 minutes.

“That would have increased by now…people flying in and out of the region would have noticed the delays. This will continue to increase as the region’s aviation industry grows with the launch of new airlines, more flights and destinations.

“Without urgent action, we estimate that this could cost in excess of $7bn in lost productivity time to passengers and more than $9bn in airline operating costs by 2025,” Albakri pointed out.

The senior IATA executive, however, admitted that the geography of the region, GCC in particular, was a major challenge to effectively decongesting its air space.

“As you rightly pointed out, the countries in the region are located geographically very close to one another. Within five or 10 minutes, you will be flying into another air traffic management (ATM) area or may be even more.

“That is why we believe it (region’s air space) should be managed in a more integrated way. We believe the military could allow the use of more commercial air space. And of course, the entire redesign of the air space could free up and provide the capacity that is needed.”

Asked what IATA was doing to ease congestion in the GCC region in particular, Albakri said, “We have been talking to militaries through the regulators in these countries to free up space for commercial use. Also, we have been encouraging and working with countries in the region and regulators concerned to upgrade their technologies and redesign their air space.

“It has got a lot to do in terms of redesigning their air space and upgrading their technology that will allow them to increase their capacity (of existing Flight Information Region or FIRs).

“We believe air space should be managed in a more integrated way. We believe the military could allow the use of more commercial air space. And of course, the entire redesign of the air space could free up and provide the capacity that is badly needed.”

Albakri said, “We continue to address this issue. Our director general and other IATA directors are working with regulators and the air navigation service providers in the region to make sure they invest in advanced technology. We encourage them…and continue to co-operate and collaborate between them to enhance the efficiency of the region’s air space.

“We cannot create more air space. But we can certainly create more efficiencies,” he stressed.

Besides catering to millions of passengers every year, the region’s aviation industry generates nearly $130bn in GDP and supports 2.4mn jobs.

Some of the other challenges being faced by the airline industry in the Africa and Middle East region include taxes and other imposed charges.

Infrastructure and infrastructure privatisation, he said are something of “great importance” to the region.

“Because governments are moving very quickly into privatising air transport infrastructure, we want to make sure they pick the right model…right approach. There is nothing wrong with privatisation. In fact, we encourage privatisation …but it has to be done in such a way that it provides the right technical requirements for operators in a sustainable way.”

Albakri was of the view that the region’s carriers were gradually coming out of the major financial challenges they had in 2017 and 2018.

“The worst is behind them, we believe. In 2017 and 2018, they had to go through financial restructuring…they took a lot of losses. But remember, the oil price was significantly lower in 2017 and 2018,” the IATA’s regional vice-president noted.



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