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Exclusive: Navigating the current and future needs of UAE & regional, air traffic control services

With the aviation industry facing extreme growth in air traffic, how will air traffic control navigate these challenges in the region?

Globally, air travel is expected to maintain positive growth of about 4-5%, however the industry is struggling The industry will strive towards more automation, developing decision making support tools for Air Traffic Controllers We still have work to do when it comes to the separation of regulators and service providers in a few Middle Eastern countries

Serco Middle East has been providing air traffic control services in the Middle East for over 60 years, beginning with the Bahrain Civil Aviation Authority and Sharjah Airport Authority. With the aviation industry facing extreme growth in air traffic, how will air traffic control navigate these challenges to ensure flights are controlled safely, orderly and punctually in the future?

In an exclusive interview Peter Mohring, Managing Director, Transport, Serco Middle East, we got some answers to that and more.

1- What is the range of services, security involved, No. of staff required, quality control, etc. in air traffic management?   

Air traffic management (ATM) is an aviation term encompassing all systems that assist aircraft to depart from an aerodrome, transit airspace, and land at a destination aerodrome, including Air Traffic Services (ATS)/Air Traffic Control (ATC), Airspace Management (ASM), and Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM).

In simple terms the Airspace is divided into three main segments, all handled by Air Traffic Controllers: 

– Aerodrome, which is controlling landing and departing aircraft including the closest airspace around the airport

– Approach, which is sequencing the aircraft in a line facing the runway, or separating aircraft departing form an airport

– En-route, which is the upper airspace that are handing traffic at higher levels transiting between different units and countries

All of the above is the service provision from an ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider). The provision of services can be delivered by a Government entity such as FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) in the US or DANS (Dubai Air Navigation Services) in Dubai, UAE. It can also be delivered by a state owned corporation such as Swedish LFV or a combination such a NATS in UK, or be a fully private ANSP such as Serco in Middle East, UK and US or GAL ANS operating Abu Dhabi Airports. 

Air traffic services are regulated globally via an organisation called ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and these regulations are then translated to National Regulation and Aviation Law via a National Supervisory Authority (NSA) in the specific country.

Read: IATA: Passenger demand up 4.2% below 5.5% annual growth trend

2- What do you anticipate the growth in aviation industry when it comes to arrivals/departures, no. of passengers, new routes/codesharing, price competition, etc… To be?

Globally, air travel is expected to maintain positive growth of about 4-5%, however the industry is struggling with high jet fuel prices, reduced global economic growth and the impact of climate change and unplanned events e.g. Coronavirus and regional instability.  

In the Middle East, we will see changes coming which will not only stimulate the aviation industry but also create new challenges. To mention a few, these include the ambition of Dubai International Airport to increase annual passenger numbers from 90 million today to circa 120 million passengers annually over the next 10-15 years which will require significant investment and will also put  pressure on Air Traffic Services to optimise  runway and taxiway throughout at the airport; the growth of the low cost carrier market  and the exciting growth challenges presented for  airports and airlines  in Saudi Arabia aligned to the Kingdom’s 2030 Visions that will boost international and  domestic travel numbers.

Read: Short leisure breaks to drive 38% increase in visitors to KSA by 2024

3- How will that growth impact your company in terms of hiring, training, new skills, technology investments, data AI and ML, security and others to ensure no interruption of and timely delivery of quality ATC services? Will your fees increase in 2020 as a result?

The outlook for Serco in the future of aviation business looks very positive. Mainly because of the different business models that we provide. We have vast experience in managing people, assets and data on behalf of our clients, which are the three key components of the Air Navigation Service Provision. 

Our model provides flexible solutions that will meet the demand and change of requirements over time. To support the airlines from competition of other types of transport, the pressure on ANSPs will be to become cost efficient, agile and more end user centric. This is different from traditional Air Navigation Service Providers with the business model of only delivering traditional output-based service contracts.

4- What technologies will need to be looked at to ensure the industry is ready for the future? How will digital transformation and disruptive technologies be used by service providers like yourselves to match or pre-empt travelers’ virtual travel experiences?

We will see that the industry will strive towards more automation, developing decision making support tools for Air Traffic Controllers, new standards of separating aircraft based on environment dynamics and trajectory prediction tools. To continue to reduce the carbon footprint procedures such as “green approaches”, flexible use of airspace and the free flight concept will come into use more over the world. We are also facing more demands from drone users and unmanned vehicles that will drastically change the way we provide services in urban congested areas.  

Through partnership or acquisitions with cutting edge startup companies, and a global footprint, Serco will be driving change in different levels of automation of the work of Air Traffic Controllers and new ways of managing data.

Read: Air Arabia delivers track record 2019 net profit of over AED 1 Billion

 

5- What aspects of ATC systems (Compliance, security and cameras, control rooms, runway, data, signage, asset and people management, air traffic approach, etc…) did you find lacking or needed improving in the region as Serco in order to align them with global standards?

We still have work to do when it comes to the separation of regulators and service providers in a few Middle Eastern countries. The trend in many other parts of the world is striving to more deregulation of provision of services and deregulation that will drive cost efficiency and end user focus, and that is something that the Middle East countries should take into consideration. 

When it comes to technology, the challenges ahead are to develop the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) concept and even more importantly Airport Collaborate Decision Making (A-CDM) that aims to improve the efficiency and resilience of airport operations by optimising the use of resources and improving the predictability of air traffic.