Gulf States Seek Help with Air Traffic Management

 - August 20, 2012, 9:10 AM
UK air traffic management group NATS is hoping to take the lead in helping Gulf states develop sufficient infrastructure to manage rapidly growing volumes of air traffic.

As the phenomenal growth in the Middle East air transport sector gathers momentum, attention is turning to how to manage the increased numbers of airliners now on order when they enter local skies. This is especially true in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region–home to Emirates Airline, Etihad and Qatar Airways–where governments have risen to the challenge of air traffic management, and now thoughts are turning to how to mount a regional effort to maximize air traffic efficiency.

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) opened the Sheikh Zayed air navigation center in November 2009 to handle “sufficient sector suites to accommodate traffic growth for 20 years or a total traffic volume exceeding 2 million movements.” It ranks as the largest and busiest air traffic management facility in the Middle East. UK-based public-private partnership NATS Holdings, which provides ATC at 15 UK airports, including London Heathrow and Gatwick, stands at the forefront of international firms looking to participate in the growth of the GCC’s ATC industry. “In the UAE, forecast growth in aircraft movements is prompting serious consideration of how airspace can facilitate expansion,” NATS managing director Paul Reid told Abu Dhabi’s Global Aerospace Summit earlier this year.

NATS has already worked with Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE, providing consultancy and air traffic “solutions” for a decade to help “airline and hub airport growth in the Middle East…meet capacity demands.” In April, NATS appointed John Swift as its director for the Middle East. “We have a long history of addressing these issues and working toward increasing capacity,” he said. “We see an opportunity for people to learn from our lessons and benefit from our experience. The challenges are all the same. There’s no new problem.”

To help GCC countries maximize throughput in their local airspace, NATS hopes to contribute to airspace design and optimization. The plan will almost certainly entail a regional effort similar to the Single European Sky project. Abu Dhabi-based Swift has detected a certain reticence about how nations will pool their efforts, given the difficulties experienced in Europe in this regard. “There is an opportunity for the Middle East region to demonstrate some real leadership and potentially to leap-frog Europe,” says Swift. “The ideas, the concepts are all there.”