Capacity constraints threaten aviation growth

By Doug Newhouse |

Air traffic capacity constraints pose the single largest threat to aviation growth and a barrier to realising billions of dollars of additional economic activity it could generate in the Middle East – and globally – over the next decade, according to Dubai Airports Ceo Paul Griffiths.

Speaking at the annual gathering of the world’s Air Navigation Service Providers and other ATM industry leaders in Bangkok last Monday, Griffiths warned that more coordinated and organised air space management is now crucial: “In Dubai, aircraft movements are now five times more numerous than 25 years ago, growing from 63,000 in 1985 to over 307,000 in 2010,” said Griffiths. 

“By 2020 aircraft movements will surpass 560,000 and passenger numbers will climb to 98.5 million. Unfortunately, the airspace is currently not configured to support the growth and capacity bottlenecks are looming on the horizon. We have an outdated route structure, fragmented airspace and there is a lack of effective coordination on a regional scale.”

He added that traffic growth is expected to generate significant economic expansion and in Dubai alone he pointed out that aviation supports 250,000 jobs and $22bn in economic activity – drawing on the results of a recently released study conducted by leading global research firm Oxford Economics. 

By 2020, Griffiths said that aviation is projected to support 373,000 jobs – or 22% of the total employment in Dubai – and $45.4bn in economic activity – or 32% of GDP.

He acknowledged that Dubai is not alone in its recognition of the value of aviation. Airlines and airports across the Middle East are investing heavily in aircraft and infrastructure expansion to capture the value of the anticipated growth. 

Arab countries plan to spend nearly $200bn on new aircraft in the next 15 years to meet demand. And more than $100bn has been committed to airport expansion, more than half of which is in the UAE itself.

“Previously most of aviation’s congestion problems have existed on the ground, now the biggest strategic threat to the growth of aviation is in the air,” said Griffiths. “There are several root causes for this malaise. The external factors start with nationalism and politics getting in the way of logic. 

“There is needless concern over sovereignty issues which have long been overcome elsewhere. Another is an outdated regulatory environment, which is not supporting the new order of aviation where airspace is viewed as a global commodity, not a local product. “Finally, airspace management is being seen by other parts of the industry as a black art, not a vital part of the supply chain and is therefore not properly integrated.”

Griffiths added that internal factors, such as a lack of strategic planning among air navigation service providers and the general absence of long-term commitment and investment, are equally disconcerting.

He said that to avoid constraining aviation’s growth locally, Dubai Airports is finalising a detailed strategy to expand airspace capacity over the next decade. Measures include adjusting the sequencing of arrivals and departures, redesigning route structures and making better use of technologies, such as performance-based navigation and communication navigation and surveillance systems which help aircraft fly more efficiently. 

Dubai Airports is also leading a joint Middle East Airspace Study, in coordination with CANSO, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, to work across borders to optimise the region’s air space structure.

“There is a critical gap between politics and operations at both government and operating levels in presenting the compelling economic case for an efficient airspace environment,” concluded Griffiths. 

“We simply cannot wait for the political wheels to grind so slowly. We have to recognise that working together is the only way forward.”


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