Air traffic control overhaul to save region billions

08 September 2015

Middle East countries could save $16bn through regulatory and operational improvements

  • Some 50 per cent of air space allocated exclusively to military use
  • Average flight delays across the region per flight is 36 minutes
  • A do-nothing scenario could lead to doubling of average flight delays

Middle East countries could save some $16.3bn over the next 10 years by improving their air traffic control processes.

Some 44 per cent of these savings could go to passengers, while the remaining value can be had by airports and the so-called air navigation service providers (ANSPs) such as aviation authorities.

This emerged from a study conducted by UK-based air navigation service provider NATS through Oxford Economics, which used the average flight delays in minutes across the region to estimate the equivalent monetary losses, or gains, to both passengers and ANSPs.

The study found that air traffic control issues account for about 82 per cent of the average 36 minute difference between the scheduled gate departure or arrival time and the actual time of departure or arrival.

These losses could translate into savings if these countries were to make vital regulatory and operational improvements to their air traffic control processes, in addition to the adoption of new technologies, the report stated.

The report argues that the region generally has to explore different models for service provision where keeping the safety regulation separate would foster greater transparency and customer focus.

“From an operational point of view, almost 50 per cent of the airspace in the region is reserved for the military. Huge benefits could be realised simply from greater flexibility whereby civil aircraft could use that airspace when not in use by the military,” explains John Swift, director for Middle East with NATS. “Some excellent work has already been done, but more is needed if the aviation industry, and by implication the wider regional economy, is to continue to be successful.”

The report posited that average flight delays over a 10 year period starting in 2015 could double if the Middle East countries carried on with the status quo via do-nothing scenario and do not make appropriate improvements in the way they manage air traffic control. This is due in part to the Gulf carriers’ aggressive expansion plans and the projected significant rise in regional and international passenger traffic across the airports.

The Dubai International airport recorded passenger traffic in excess of 70 million in 2014, up from 47 million four years earlier, marking a 49 per cent increase. The planned Al-Maktoum International airport in the south of the emirate is envisaged to handle 200 million passengers a year upon completion in 2025. A new terminal in Abu Dhabi, the Midfield Terminal Complex, is also set to open in 2017. The new terminal was designed to handle 30 million passengers annually. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain are also undertaking multi-billion dollar worth of new airport and expansion projects to meet increasing travel demand.

The monetary estimates for the losses, and subsequently surpluses to passengers and ANSPs, were determined by using the existing value of time (VOT) for the UK for business and leisure trips. The UK-based VOTs were then adjusted to reflect the ratios between business and leisure passengers and the average GDP per capita across the Middle East countries.

Apart from the six GCC states, the study’s geographical scope included Iran and Iraq as well.

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