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Airport chiefs size up ways to meet GCC airspace demand

Airport, Adult, Female The Middle East served 422 million air passengers in 2023 and is expected to serve 466 million in 2024 Dubai Airports
The Middle East served 422 million air passengers in 2023 and 466 million are expected in 2024
  • Half a billion travellers expected
  • Oman in talks to increase airspace
  • Airport expansion continues apace

The annual number of air travellers to and from the Middle East is projected to pass the half-billion mark next year, meaning aviation authorities need to both expand and streamline use of available airspace, senior GCC airport chiefs have told AGBI.

Oman is in talks with a neighbouring Gulf state to unlock a new air corridor to serve the increasing number of passengers travelling to, from and through the region, said Sheikh Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni, CEO of Oman Airports Management Company.

He declined to identify the other GCC country that was engaged in talks. Oman borders the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.



Oman opened two new blocks of domestic airspace over the past five years, to help ease the traffic burden, Sheikh Aimen said on Tuesday during the Airport Show in Dubai.

“We freed lots of spaces that are being booked for military and other usage,” he said.

“Oman is a safe country, so many airlines would really love to come and fly over Oman … to avoid certain neighbouring countries, without naming names, and that’s why Oman airspace is actually growing really rapidly in the previous period.”

The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran that have taken in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, have at times restricted airspace in the region.

The Airports Council International (ACI) said in February that the Middle East had 422 million air passengers in 2023. It is expected to serve 466 million in 2024 and 510 million next year, although they acknowledge that mounting geopolitical tensions might affect regional civil aviation.

This growth is expected to accelerate in the second half of the decade and beyond, as nearly all GCC countries race to build massive new airports, including in Dubai and Riyadh, or expand existing ones from Abu Dhabi to Bahrain. 

Saudi authorities have for some time been working to open up more of the nation’s 44 percent of restricted airspace to accommodate projections of approximately 330 million civilian passengers annually by 2030. 

In Oman several airports have been built or renovated over the past nine years, with new facilities in Muscat and Duqm opening in 2018, the Suhar Airport in 2016 and the Salalah Airport in 2015.

Oman Airports welcomed more than 14 million passengers in 2023, up from fewer than 10 million a year before, according to the company’s annual filings. 

The second runway at Muscat Airport is expected to become operational on Thursday. 

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Sheikh Aimen said. “It will give more capacity for Muscat Airport, our hub airport, and we need more capacity for the growth that we’re seeing.”

Body Part, Finger, HandDubai Airports
Dubai Airports’ CEO Paul Griffiths

In the UAE work to overhaul airspace management has been going on since 2017, when authorities adopted technology to handle air traffic growth efficiently until 2040.

As Dubai moves to transform the Al Maktoum airport into the world’s largest, with an ultimate capacity of 260 million passengers a year, Dubai Airports’ chief executive, Paul Griffiths, said there might be no need to unlock additional airspace. Instead, existing space could be used better.

“You could actually work with the amount of airspace to which we currently have access, if you use it more effectively and efficiently,” he said on Tuesday.

Technology, including networks through which unmanned aerial vehicles as well as mainstream aircraft can communicate with each other in real time, will be vital to that, Griffiths said. 

“I think what you’ll see is bands of different airspace emerging where you’ll get below a certain altitude, there will be the ability to self-separate,” he told AGBI.

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