Airlines to stop flying over war zones

Re-routing aircraft across the region’s airspace would not only be safer but could cut cost of tickets, say experts.

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DUBAI // New routes will soon open up around conflict zones for flights across the Middle East in an aim to redesign and improve the region’s airspace.

With crises raging in Syria and Iraq, commercial flights have been affected with longer routes and heavier traffic on those routes to avoid war-zones.

“The Civil Aviation Authority has weekly meetings to table issues between civilian and military aircraft and to address them,” said Rick Sharpe, quality and safety manager at Serco Baghdad.

“They’ve developed two new airways [in Iraq] to take north and south-bound traffic further away from conflict zones to give some assurance to the civilian operators that they are building a bigger buffer zone between military activities.”

The CAA expects a new radar data processing system to be online by July.

“Once the airlines feel that they have the right things in place to continue operations, traffic is going to go through the roof,” Mr Sharpe said.

Radar installations are also expected to be set up in Baghdad and Kirkuk over the next four months to ensure consistent coverage.

“Once one of the major airlines decides to make that decision to overfly Iraqi airspace, I think everybody else will follow,” Mr Sharpe added.

Although most flights pass over Iran, aviation experts said a route over Iraq, taking planes further away from the conflict zones, would be safer and cheaper to fly.

“The route is shorter and the overflight charges that the CAA charges are a lot cheaper in Iraq than they are in Iran, which is factored into ticket prices,” said an air traffic expert speaking on grounds of anonymity.

“Iran is very expensive because of the distance they fly through the country. Iraq is less than a third of the price. So if you send 800 aeroplanes through there, it’s a lot of money.”

Major projects are under way to reshape the region’s airspace after more than 60 years by using it more efficiently.

“We’re not looking at the most efficient route but the flow,” said George Rhodes, assistant director of safety and flight operations, infrastructure, at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Flying over Iraq is cheaper and shorter for airlines, so the IATA has been working over the past year and a half addressing these ideas to find out what requirement they need to make that transition comfortable. Airlines continually evaluate airspace for safety, security and efficiency.”

More harmonisation is needed, with Gulf militaries expected to share their airspace with commercial operations.

Although the UAE was deemed to be “forward-thinking” in that sector, 47 per cent of its airspace is under military control.

“It’s always good to cooperate with neighbouring countries and regions to look for developing systems to improve capacity,” said Thorsten Wehe, executive secretary at the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Association.

“I think it’s good to establish common standards in training. It’s working in Europe, so why not in other regions?”

Dubai is implementing grass roots projects to increase the number of planes flying in and out of its airports and avoid delays for travellers.

“We want predictability,” said Philip Marques, head of air traffic control – Dubai Approach at Dubai Air Navigation Services.

“We’re working with Emirates to remove a mile between each plane to add close to two arrivals every hour to reach 36 planes per hour at Dubai International Airport. We’re also trying to come up with novel ways to use both runways and create more positions with our air-traffic controllers to have them dedicated to arrivals or departures so we hope the community will see the benefits of this shortly.”