The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for regional cooperation and global standards to support the continued success of aviation in the Gulf area.
"A strong vision for aviation’s future supported by cooperation and global standards has laid the foundation for a very successful air transport sector. That foundation becomes stronger the more we work together as partners. I am absolutely confident that the Gulf region will play an even more crucial role in commercial aviation’s second century," said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO in a keynote address to the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.
The fast-growing Gulf area is at the center of the success of Middle East aviation. Airlines in the Middle East are expected to contribute a record $2.2 billion to the airline industry’s expected global profit of $18.7 billion in 2014. Driven by the high speed growth of airlines in the Gulf, the Middle East region’s share of global traffic increased from 4% to 9% in just over a decade.
Aviation has become a key contributor to local economies. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over 430,000 UAE jobs and 14.7% of GDP are linked to aviation and aviation-related tourism.
"Aviation in the Gulf is a great success story and air traffic gridlock should not become its Achilles’ heel. Airspace is finite. So capacity can only grow with efficiency. Each country has invested in impressive technology. But effective management needs regional and international teamwork. The players in the region urgently need to buy in to a vision for seamless airspace management in the region and then work together in a team effort to make it happen," said Tyler.
"Airspace congestion is a real and rising problem. And it grows with each new aircraft that is delivered. Unless it is dealt with expeditiously, the efficient hub operations which are supporting the region’s success will begin to unravel," said Tyler.
IATA identified opportunities for progress in two areas:
Flexible use of military airspace: Between 40 and 60% of airspace in the Gulf is reserved for military use. "We are trying to squeeze the fast-growing civil aviation component into a fraction of the airspace. One solution is to develop partnerships and trust with the military to open more flexible use zones. That is happening progressively—but it is not keeping pace with demand for air travel," said Tyler.
Seamless use of airspace: Historically, the Arabian Peninsula was operated as one Flight Information Region (FIR) from Bahrain. "From the early 1980s it began to be fragmented and today there are six FIRs. For an airline, the important thing is to get from point A to point B as smoothly as possible. The challenge for the air navigation service providers is to work together to make that happen as seamlessly across six FIRs as if there were one," said Tyler.
"Learn from the mistakes of Europe. The single aviation market created enormous demand for air connectivity. But this was not matched with a Single European Sky. The result is an inefficient and fragmented air traffic management system that is a burden on European competitiveness," said Tyler.
IATA urged the region to continue to base its growth on global standards. "Global standards provide a common language for industry partners to work together. I would attribute a large part of the success of aviation in the Gulf to the importance that the stakeholders in the region—namely, governments and industry—have placed on them. Stay the course and resist the urge to fragment global standards with local variations," said Tyler.
"Be it passenger rights, requirements for advance passenger information or the adoption of important treaties like the Montreal Convention, the more that we can place global standards at the center of regulations, the more solid is the foundation for everybody’s success," said Tyler.
IATA further encouraged stakeholders in the Gulf region to strengthen their competitive advantage with early adoption of key industry initiatives such as the IATA Fast Travel program, Smart Security and e-freight.
"The Gulf is uniquely placed—due to its rapid growth—to benefit as a leader in early adoption. That will need collaboration between industry players. But the result will be the competitive advantage of being at the forefront of efforts to promote efficiency and customer service," said Tyler.
IATA will host the world’s airline community in Doha for the IATA 70th Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit from 1-3 June 2014.