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Middle East Air Space Congestion Gets Review as Passengers Soar

The United Arab Emirates, home to the world’s largest airline by international traffic, is reviewing a more unified approach on how the Gulf region manages its air space as delays become more commonplace amid booming travel.

A ministerial committee that will collaborate with neighboring countries plans to explore ways to ease congestion, including a shared air space instead of the fractured structure now in place as well as greater use of aerial zones reserved for military purposes, said Mohammed Ahli, director general of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

“By 2020, there won’t be a problem in air space for the region and the UAE,” Ahli said at a press conference in Dubai.

United Arab Emirates is targeting 100 million passengers in Dubai alone within six years, fueled by the expansion of Emirates and its growing fleet of wide-body jets. Even with the construction of a new airport to absorb some of the inflow to the main hub, Dubai and neighboring Sharjah are already buckling under the strain of air travel, with planes circling for as long as 40 minutes before they land, Ahli said.

The Persian Gulf air space is also limited by military use, with only about half of the skies across the region open to civil aviation. Dubai International Airport passenger numbers grew 15 percent to 66.4 million in 2013, and a similar growth rate in 2014 will let it surpass London Heathrow.

The Dubai airport will undergo repairs from May to runways strained by around-the-clock flights and above-average arrival of heavy wide-body aircraft. Ahli said 25 percent of air movements will need to go to the new Maktoum International Airport until the repairs are completed.

Al Maktoum can accommodate 32 percent of movements operating at Dubai International, Ahli said. Some European carriers operating out of Dubai International may choose to move permanently to Al Maktoum in 2015, Ahli said, without identify them. Hungary’s Wizz Air is currently the only European carrier operating at Al Maktoum International.

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