Airspace Congestion in Middle East Poses Major Costs

Middle East

Airspace congestion continues to plague the Middle East, resulting in worsening flight disruption for passengers and rising operation costs for airlines, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA regional vice president for Africa and Middle East, told AIN at a recent aviation event that that the Gulf region in particular has seen average delays per flight attributed to air traffic control (ATC) issues rapidly increasing. “The airspace is mostly controlled by the military,” he said. “There is a fragmented airspace management system. The aviation agencies are not fully integrated, causing huge delays in terms of air traffic control.”    

According to Albakri, flight delays attributable to ATC issues in the region average 29 minutes. He said without urgent action that number could double by 2025, costing more than $7 billion in lost productivity for passengers and adding more than $9 billion to airline operating costs. “The number could even go higher if the issue of air traffic management in the region is not properly addressed,” said Albakri. “Different aviation agencies should integrate their airspace management systems.”

The IATA official stressed the need for a capacity-building program to enhance the knowledge and skill in air traffic management systems.

According to IATA, the military blocks 50 percent of UAE’s airspace. “The southern part of Saudi Arabian airspace is underdeveloped and the war with Yemen is affecting airspace operations,” IATA said in a statement. The association listed lack of cooperation between Oman and India to develop performance-based navigation (PBN) over the Indian Ocean, the Qatar airspace blockade, and the threat of increased Iran-U.S. tensions as some of the most pressing challenges.  

Meanwhile, airlines in the Middle East continue to see their profits eroded and margins squeezed. In 2018 Middle Eastern airlines lost $4.46 per passenger. According to IATA, the fall in oil prices and political unrest contributed to the declining profits. “While airlines should have benefited from lower oil prices they suffered as the region’s oil-producing nations tried to recoup lost revenue through additional taxes and charges,” said IATA.

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