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GCC close to agreement on centralising air traffic management

GCAA in advanced talks with military for flexible use of airspace, says Al Suwaidi

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Talks about setting up a centralised air traffic management system in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have reached a “very advanced stage”, the director general of UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has revealed.

“We are working on centralising the traffic management for the GCC countries and we are at a very advanced stage,” Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the certification of Atlantis The Palm Helipad certification event on Sunday.

“It will take time, but we have started the talks,” he said, without giving any specific deadline for completion of talks.

Al Suwaidi also clarified the air traffic congestion in the UAE was not an internal issue, but arising due to lack of cooperation from its neighbours.

“Our problem is not coming from our end. Our problem is mainly coming from neighbouring countries as they are not allowing us to accommodate the traffic we generate and this is the main problem,” he said.

Asked if the UAE was planning to allocate more military airspace for civilian aircraft, the director general said the country has adopted a “flexible approach” which allows them to use the military airspace whenever required.

“However, we have in advanced talks with the military for flexible use of the airspace. They [military] have their requirements and we just [cannot] forget about them and use their space. But they do understand the need for civilian airspace and allow flexible use.”

At present, the airspace use between military and civilian aircraft is equally split and not in the ratio of 60:40 percent as previously claimed, the official said.

Last month Saj Ahmad, analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, said restricted airspace will be a challenge for growth of country’s airports with Dubai International Airport expected to hit the 100 million passenger market well ahead of 2020.

“The challenge however remains opening up more military airspace for commercial use to help ease traffic flows into the UAE,” Ahmad said.

The UAE is investing billions of the dollars to develop new and expand airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ajman. Even the US planemaker Boeing has predicted 3,310 new airplanes worth $770 billion over the next 20 years in the Middle East.