Doha/Muscat: Airspace congestion between Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a major issue and the two countries are cooperating to better manage the air traffic, according to a senior official of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The issue of air traffic management is becoming a challenge in the Gulf region, specifically between Oman and the UAE, said Hussein Dabbas, regional vice-president for Africa and Middle East at the IATA.
"The reason is that there has been a huge surge in the number of flights that are taking that route while flying out of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah going southeast and east overflying the Omani airspace," Dabbas told reporters in Doha on Tuesday during the 70th Annual General Meeting of the IATA.
"The two governments have already started to cooperate," Dabbas noted, adding that the issue cannot be resolved overnight.
According to the IATA official, the congestion problem also has its roots in the lack of efficient air traffic management and allocation of a large swathe of airspace in the Gulf region (between 40 to 60 per cent) for military use.
"We are discussing with the governments to try to reduce that space and in many cases to open it for commercial flights when there are not military activities taking place," said Dabbas.
The air traffic issue is affecting the daily performance of the airlines and causing delays, he said.
Sometimes the planes have to wait on the taxiway while their engines are running or have to fly at a lower altitude because of this problem, the official said, adding that resolving the issue would save the airlines a lot of money in terms of extra fuel.
Air traffic management is lagging in the region
Fuel costs accounts for over 30 per cent of airlines' operating expenses, Dabbas explained.
Unfortunately, in this region, there has been a huge investment in air fleet and airports, but the air traffic management is lagging behind the infrastructure development, he said. "We are working collectively to try to solve it," he said, adding that IATA brings the issue on the table but it is the responsibility of the governments to work together and speed it up.
GCC passengers unfazed
Asked if the Arab Spring has negatively affected the number of passengers coming to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, Dabbas said that it has not led to a decrease in passenger traffic growth in this area.
It mainly affected Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, but the situation is improving in Jordan and Egypt, he added. He also said that passengers travelling to the Gulf account for a large part of the increase in passenger traffic in the Middle East, which was 14 per cent last year.
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