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Airspace Management Crisis Looms

by Lorys Charalambous,, Cyprus

14 June 2011

The management of airspace needs fundamental change, to a globalized, efficient model, in order to cope with the massive expansion of aviation operations due in years to come, Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports has warned.

Using Dubai as a case in point, Griffiths noted that aircraft movements have expanded rapidly from 63,000 in 1985, to more than 307,000 in 2010, and are due to surpass 560,000 by 2020. Passenger traffic is to more than double by 2020 to 98.5 million from 47.2 million recorded in 2010.

Driven by massive capital investment of USD100bn in airport infrastructure, and with further investment of over USD200bn in the next fifteen years planned by Middle Eastern carriers, Griffiths told the CANSO Annual General Meeting on June 12 of the 'yawning gap' that the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) community needs to fill, not just in Dubai but globally.

"When you compare the arrivals and departure banks using a typical peak arrival pattern last year with how it will look in 2020, the difference is dramatic. While the volumes are impressive, airspace capacity constraints are a threat. The airspace is not currently configured to support this growth," he said.

"Unless attitudes throughout the world change towards the management of airspace change from being sovereign assets to a global commodity, then the aspirations for growth of the entire air travel community will be stopped dead in their tracks," he added.

Addressing attendees, Griffiths pointed out a number of air management-related issues that are due to come to the fore on an international level within the next few years, namely:

  • Capacity bottlenecks;
  • Outdated route structures and fragmented airspace;
  • A lack of investment in updating navigational technology and techniques; and,
  • A lack of effective coordination on a regional scale between different jurisdictions.

Griffiths continued:

"Previously most of our problems have existed on the ground, now the biggest strategic threat to the growth of aviation is in the air. There are several root causes for this malaise. The external factors start with nationalism and politics getting in the way of logic. Another factor is an outdated regulatory environment which is of a different time and is not supporting the new order of aviation. Airspace management [is] being seen by other parts of the industry as a black art, not a vital part of the supply chain and is therefore not properly integrated. There is needless concern over sovereignty issues which have been long overcome elsewhere with airspace seen more as a local product rather than a global commodity."

"ANSPs have traditionally concentrated on the day-to-day business of operational delivery and very few have any depth of strategic planning capability to develop detailed plans for capacity and efficiency increases. This is holding back the pace of reform and investment. Airports and airlines are spending billions on expansion to accommodate growth and contribute to the local economy. ANSPs are lagging behind in bringing together the long-term plans that will enable this investment to be fully realized."

"And beyond local boundaries there is no firm commitment to air traffic management expansion within an acceptable timescale. ANSPs need to share the same sense of urgency as airlines and airports. More investment is required – of both time and money – but it needs to be properly directed."

"We urgently need ANSPs to recognize that they are a vital component of an integrated supply chain and that all critical components are serving the same end customer. This needs to manifest itself by the definition and agreement on a set of shared objectives for the delivery of capacity which is able to meet the future needs of our industry."

"There is a critical gap between politics and operations at both government and operating level in presenting the compelling economic case for an efficient airspace environment. We simply cannot wait for the political wheels to grind so slowly."

Griffiths concluded:

"There is an opportunity for ANSPs to work together and become a global force in their own right – they should work together with airports and civil aviation authorities both locally and globally to bring the future of aviation within our grasp."

TAGS: aviation

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