Concerns have been voiced over air traffic delays in the Gulf, where the average delay per flight in the region is 29 minutes.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that without urgent progress, that could double by 2025 costing over $7 billion in lost productivity and adding over $9 billion to airline operating costs.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, told a conference in Cairo: “There is an enormous amount of traffic in a limited geographic area. And the only solution is to manage the area as a whole.
“Governments must replace political fragmentation with collaborative cross-border decision-making. This has to happen fast or the effectiveness of the region’s hubs will be severely compromised.”
IATA’s chief urged governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to maximize the economic and social benefits of aviation which currently supports 2.4 million jobs and $130 billion in economic activity across the region.
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That represents 3.3 percent of all employment and 4.4 percent of all GDP in the region.
“Over the next 20 years we expect passenger numbers to grow by 4.3 percent annually. As aviation’s leaders we must work together and with governments to realize this potential and the economic and social development that it will catalyze,” said de Juniac.
De Juniac highlighted improving aviation infrastructure and enhancing competitiveness while working toward regulatory harmonization across the region as essential.
While the Middle East has shown foresight in developing world-leading airport infrastructure, de Juniac sounded a note of caution on airport privatization plans in the region.
“As Saudi Arabia and others across the region consider airport privatization our message is clear and simple: talk to all stakeholders — especially the airlines — to ensure that you gain the best long-term economic and social benefits.
“There is no need for governments in the region to repeat the mistakes that have been made in other parts of the world. Consultation is not just key, it is a must,” he said.
IATA also said rising costs in the MENA region must be brought under control to preserve its competitiveness.
“Since 2016 we have seen $1.6 billion added to industry costs in the MENA region. Every dollar in extra charges is a challenge for the region’s airlines that make only $5.89 per passenger. Moreover, it is a dis-incentive for passengers which impacts broadly across the economy,” said de Juniac.
He added that supporting the projected growth of aviation will require an expanded labour force and de Juniac called upon governments to tap into the power of women to help alleviate a growing skills shortage in the region.
“We are facing a skills shortage. In the peak northern summer season Emirates had to trim frequencies because it did not have enough pilots. Finding a solution for that will require a comprehensive series of actions over a sustained period. And one of them—which goes beyond the pilot shortage—is to enable more women to find careers in aviation,” he said.
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