Adopting interoperable air traffic management systems in parallel with a more flexible allocation of airspace between civilian and military air traffic are key to decongesting the region’s airspace, according to an aviation consultant.

“We’re in a unique geography where an aircraft travels to an airspace administered by a different aviation authority usually within minutes of take-off,” explains Ben Kiff, Middle East director of UAE-based aviation consultancy Nats.

It is understood that major airports in the region use different air traffic control (ATC) systems, each of which has a life cycle of 10 years or more. Adopting ATC systems that are interoperable and which adhere to similar standards are seen to significantly improve air traffic management especially during peak hours to avoid delays in aircraft arrivals or departures.

A study conducted in 2015 by Nats through UK’s Oxford Economics indicated that the key aviation markets in the Middle East region could save as much as $16bn over a 10-year period by improving their air traffic control processes.

It is understood that just one extra aircraft movement in an airport could translate into a significant economic benefit. Given the pressure on most Middle Eastern governments’ revenues due to persistent low oil prices, the main key performance indicators (KPIs) must now include “how to squeeze as much efficiency from current airspace set up.”

Kiff says major progress has been made over the past 18 months in terms of the GCC member-states’ outlook towards air traffic management and efficiency. “There is more willingness to engage and collaborate on the issue of airspace management more than ever before especially in the UAE,” says Kiff. “With the current economic reality, every asset has to work harder… I think there is a good understanding that the [limited] airspace has to be managed more efficiently.”

Nats has been engaged in a multi-phase airspace restructuring programme with the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). They are now on the third phase, which entails the implementation of recommendations based on the findings from the first two phases.

“There is efficiency coming from using common airspace together… from a more flexible use of airspace for military and civilian air traffic,” Kiff adds.

Air passenger traffic across the Middle East region  has been growing at a compounded average of 7.7 per cent between 2010 and 2015, with growth in some airports reaching double-digits, according to a recent MEED report.