Gulf’s Congested Skies Under Review to Ease Airline Traffic Flow

Persian Gulf governments must coordinate efforts to alleviate congested air traffic that threatens to undermine booming travel as flights get rerouted or delayed, the International Air Transport Association said.

The region’s governments, airlines and civil aviation bodies are working to reach an agreement by the end of the year, said Michael Herrero, the head of IATA’s Gulf operations. Among the stumbling blocks is the fact that 55 percent of the Gulf’s airspace is controlled by the military, leaving only restricted area available for commercial flights, he said.

“The only solution that can work is a regional approach on airspace management,” Herrero said in an interview at the Arab Aviation Summit in Oman. “If the UAE works alone or Oman works alone or other Gulf countries work alone to find solutions, it will not work because they share the airspace and so need a harmonized solution.”

The Middle East has turned itself into a global hub for aviation, with Emirates and other regional airlines using their geographic advantage as transit points for travelers from North America, Europe and Asia. The Dubai International airport has almost doubled traffic to 57.7 million passengers since 2007, putting it on a path to match London Heathrow by the end of 2013.

Wrong Layout

The flipside of that expansion is growing congestion that forces some aircraft into lengthy holding patterns or outright rerouting to other airfields. The clogged skies also lead to an increase of much as 12 percent in the cost of fuel burn as planes await landing slots, Air Arabia PJSC Chief Executive Officer Adel Abdullah Ali said at the Oman forum.

Part of the approach should be to review the layout of the airspace in the region, which Herrero said is outdated and stems from a time when traffic was mainly north to south, when today a larger proportion of the routes flow east to west.

While airports are getting a major upgrade, with Qatar in the process of opening a new aerodrome and Dubai working to bring passenger traffic into a second airport, those efforts are not enough to address the crowded airspace, Herrero said.

“In the end, if they are not able to accommodate so many flights in the air, these will go through other routes and airports,” he said. “Therefore, the Middle East would not be able to take that piece of the cake they are aiming for.”

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