Air traffic woes threaten Gulf aviation boom

Dubai Airport

By Shane McGinley

The Gulf’s massive aviation growth is under threat from a lack of investment in air traffic control needed to streamline the region’s congested skies, industry experts said.

Dubai AirportEmirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are some of the world’s largest buyers of new aircraft, but their fleet growth may be in doubt if Gulf states don’t funnel more cash into modernising air traffic systems and building airports.

“There will be areas of congestion,” said Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing.

“The real issue is will the governments be able to finish off these plans in a way that will accommodate the growth going forward. The plans are in place and the direction is going in the right way – but it is now time to deliver on those plans.’

Boeing expects Middle East carriers to buy up some 2,520 aircraft by 2030 as part of a $4 trillion global market for new planes and the pressure is on for local aviation infrastructure to keep pace.

The aviation industry has been earmarked as a key growth sector for the Gulf, with tens of billions of dollars to be spent on regional airport development in the next decade.

Dubai has allocated a budget of $10bn and Abu Dhabi $6.8bn to improve airport infrastructure, in order to cater for the rapidly expanding regional airlines.

Tinseth’s comments echo those of Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths who earlier this month said “yawning gaps” in airspace management posed a major obstacle to Gulf aviation growth.

Dubai International Airport, home to Emirates – the world’s largest carrier by international traffic – expects to be the world’s busiest airport by 2015 with some 75 million passengers a year.

US-based Raytheon, which claims a 60 percent share of the global air traffic management market, said cutting the time and space between take-offs and landings would boost efficiency.

“A big part of future capacity is not more runways [but] closer spacing,” Andy Zogg, vice president of command and control systems, said on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.

There is “no question” more capital must be directed into this market, he said.

Dubai Airports is implementing a Raytheon radar system to improve the spacing between aircraft and help ramp up plane movements, set to come into operation from September.

Boeing has also flagged the need for more aviation manpower in the six Gulf states. The US planemaker anticipates the Middle East will need 36,600 pilots and 53,000 technicians by 2030, in order to keep its carriers mobile.

“Clearly, the sheer size of this vital pipeline is staggering,” said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services. “To meet the demand for capable, well-trained people, Boeing and the aviation industry need to move with the speed of technology.”