The International Air Transport Association (IATA) firmly believes the airline industry is suffering on account of the airspace congestion in the GCC, which is piling up delays in the region.
Speaking to Gulf Times at the IATA headquarters in Geneva, its director general and CEO Alexandre de Junaic said the crisis could be solved either by investing in a new system or improving the existing air traffic management (ATM) in the Gulf Co-operation Council region.
“The situation (GCC airspace congestion) is pretty bad. Much better co-operation among the stakeholders is required to effectively address the issue. Lack of co-operation contributes to the situation. It is even worse due to the peculiar geography of the region. Then you have the political crisis in the region including the blockade on Qatar,” de Juniac pointed out.
In an earlier interview with Gulf Times, IATA regional vice-president (Africa and Middle East) Mohamed Ali Albakri said in 2015 and 2016 alone, the average delay per flight attributed to air traffic control issues (in the GCC 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 had said.
On some GCC carriers going through restructuring, de Juniac said, “GCC carriers are entering normal waters now after an incredible period of growth. Restructuring your fleet and programmes are all part of that. This is because the market is more mature now. It is more of a normalisation phase.”
Asked whether the “super-connector model” which is very successful in the GCC region will change, the IATA chief said, “I don’t think it will change. But two new models may emerge on the long haul area. The first one is the development of new long haul routes and the other the ‘long haul, low cost’ model.
“Direct long haul routes will directly compete with super connectors. Australian carrier Qantas has been attempting on direct flights to London. But it is a 20 hour flight…it is not totally easy to operate. For the moment, it however works.
“I am a bit sceptical on the ‘long haul, low cost’ model. I am not a non-believer or an antagonist. But I am sceptical on the workability of the ‘long haul, low cost’ model.”
De Juniac said the legacy carriers have “significantly improved” the use of capital on long haul routes. They are now doing the maximum possible hours – 14 to 15 hours a day.
“You cannot go beyond that. You have the turnaround time and then maintenance issues.”
On IATA’s importance, de Juniac said, “IATA is the trade association for the world's airlines. Our 290 members represent 82% of total traffic. Among them you will find airlines of every size and business model. Together, they are vital to the important work of linking people and economies.
“IATA's role is to support that critical activity with global standards, advocacy and services. We are involved in almost every aspect of the business— outside of the purely commercial. I don't need to remind you that it is an intensely competitive industry — with passengers and shippers benefiting greatly from this.
“Flying is becoming more affordable. This year, over four-and-a-half billion passengers and 61mn tonnes of freight will travel across a network of more than 22,000 unique city pairs connected by air. That's more than double the number of routes that were available in 1998.”