The aviation sector has the power to generate significant prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as it currently supports 2.4 million jobs and contributes $157.2 billion to the GDP of regional states, a senior International Air Transport Association (IATA) official has said.
IATA highlighted five priorities which must be addressed in order for aviation to deliver maximum economic and social benefits in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Middle East & Africa said.
“A safe, secure, efficient and sustainable air transport industry pays huge social and economic dividends. But despite the vast benefits enabled by aviation connectivity, the operating environment for airlines in Mena remains challenging,” Albakri said.
Speaking at the IATA Middle East and Africa Aviation Day in Jordan, Albakri noted that passenger demand is set to expand by 5.7% each year on average over the next 20 years, to become a market of 380 million passengers in 2035.
He urged the region’s governments to address key challenges, including:
• Infrastructure Air Traffic Management (ATM) is an issue of pressing concern. “Studies show that the average ATM delay in the Gulf is 29 minutes with the potential to double by 2025.
“Without an increase in the overall efficiency of the ATM systems in the region through improved airspace design, Mena’s world-class hubs will be compromised with gridlock. We appreciate the many programs that are in progress - including the GCC Air Navigation Committee, the Middle East ATM Enhancement Program and others. But we must drive these efforts even harder to achieve a real breakthrough. Ultimately, cooperation between states to achieve change is paramount. Regional governments cannot allow their geographical fragmentation and political complexity to get in the way of finding a long-term solution,” he said.
• Rising taxes and charges: There has been a recent proliferation of new charges and taxes in the Middle East that added $1.6 billion in extra costs in 2015 and 2016. IATA urges governments in the region to establish a charges consultation process in line with ICAO’s policies which highlight the key principles of non-discrimination, cost-relatedness, transparency and consultation.
“Excessive taxes and charges affect the ability of aviation to meet demand and impede economic growth. Governments will earn more revenues in the long-term by promoting aviation through lower taxes, than they will by making short-sighted cash grab with taxes in an attempt to plug budget deficits,” Al Bakri said.
• Security: Keeping aviation secure is integral to a state’s responsibility for national security, as highlighted in a UN Security Council Resolution. “Governments have the ultimate responsibility to keep flying safe and secure. But we are in this together. Consultation on security issues among Governments and between Governments and industry needs to happen as a matter of course not as an afterthought,” he noted.
“The lack of consultation prior to the recent ban on large PEDs caused airlines and passengers major inconvenience and left many unanswered questions. While we welcome that the ban was replaced by alternative measures, airlines have had to bear the brunt of the cost burden of implementing these new measures. However, the principle that was confirmed by UN Security Council resolution 2309 puts the responsibility for security clearly on the states,” said Al Bakri.
• Smarter Regulation: IATA urges governments in MENA to adopt IATA’s Smarter Regulation framework to avoid unintended consequences when designing or implementing aviation policies.
“Recently there has been a proliferation of regulations across MENA such as the new consumer protection regulations in Saudi Arabia which have placed an undue burden on aviation’s ability to act as a catalyst for economic and social development. Smarter Regulation is the solution to achieve policies that support the growth of aviation and boost social and economic development,” he concluded.