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Middle East can benefit by up to US$16.3bn through enhancements to traffic control

New report commissioned by NATS shows significant economic benefits for both airports and passengers through increased aircraft movements and fewer delays.
DUBAI, 8 September – An estimated US$16.3 billion in economic benefits can be achieved in the Middle East over the next 10 years by delivering enhancements to air traffic control systems, according to a new report commissioned by NATS, the air traffic management specialists. The independent report – Economic Benefits of Improvements to Air Traffic Control – was undertaken by Oxford Economics. This is the first such report to have been undertaken into the impact of investment in regional air traffic control management.

With aircraft fleets across the Middle East forecast to grow at an annual rate of more than 10% over the forthcoming decade, skies above the region are becoming increasingly congested. According to the Oxford Economics report, US$16.3 billion in economic benefits can be generated by avoiding a doubling in delays over the course of that period. The congestion also represents a significant threat to the two million jobs that depend on aviation and, more generally, to the $116 billion regional aviation economy. Of the US$16.3 billion surplus potentially available, 44% (or US$7.2 billion) would be realised by passengers and 56% ($9.1 billion) to airlines (through faster travel times).

Despite the huge growth in aviation, as governments invest in increasing trade and tourist flows, the region’s available airspace has not kept pace, according to the report. In addition to approximately half the airspace in the Middle East being reserved for military flights, the number of handovers that take place between different authorities in different divisions of airspace can lead to additional delays. Although the report notes that the challenges faced are clearly recognised throughout the region, it goes on to say that ‘the pace of progress often does not meet the pace of continued traffic growth’.

Using data from NATS and EUROCONTROL, Oxford Economics calculated that the average flight in the region was delayed by 36 minutes and that 82% of those delays were attributable to air traffic control capacity and staffing issues. By 2025, without further investment in air traffic control systems, a doubling of delay minutes to 59 minutes would cost the region US$16.3 billion.

John Swift, Direct, NATS Middle East, said: “This report highlights a clear economic case for much greater institutional, operational and technological investment in air traffic control systems across the region. It reveals that there are huge economic benefits available for airports, airlines and travellers, but also significant risks for governments in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

“As the Middle East diversifies its economy and focuses increasingly on international trade, ensuring that aviation is up to world class standards is vital. The region has made huge strides in investing in aircraft and infrastructure – it is critical, though, that the ‘invisible infrastructure’ of airspace is not forgotten. Increased collaboration between civil aviation authorities and the private sector will go a long way to closing that gap.”

Kareen El Beyrouty, Senior Economist, Oxford Economics, said: “We have a strong and proud track record for independent and objective analysis and we are pleased to have had the opportunity to study air traffic management in the Gulf region. We are not aware that such a study has previously ever been conducted in the region, certainly not in as much detail, and the sheer scale of the findings has surprised us. We very much hope it will be welcomed by the aviation industry and aviation authorities and that it helps to guide forward thinking on this topic.”