Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

Co-Located with:


ATC Show Industry News

Air Traffic Control Middle East

23 Apr 2018

Civil aviation in the Middle East is a high-flying industry. Not only does it support two million jobs: it also contributes US$116 billion in GDP to the region. This report will investigate the industry, using current information from Air Traffic Control. It will consider aviation in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which has been defined as the “Middle East” for the purposes of this report. Additionally, it will examine growth in regional economy, in flights, passenger numbers and cargo volumes, considering the effects on Air Traffic Control

Recent History

The Middle East processes 5 percent of global passenger traffic. Over the past decade, it has become one of the world’s most significant aviation hubs. Civil aviation has evolved rapidly in the region, and the industry has taken off exponentially since the 1970’s. This is a product of a business strategy that, globally, has capitalized on the region’s ideal geographical location as a hub linking key emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Here are the highlights in its recent history.

  • In the 1970’s, governments across the Middle East invested in aviation industries as a way to diversify the economy away from oil revenues.
  • In the 1980s, European and Asian carriers treated a number of destinations in the Middle East, such as Bahrain, Dubai, and Muscat, as technical stops to refuel long-haul services between Europe and Asia. The other main traffic flows included affluent local populations travelling beyond the region as well as religious traffic, largely to and from Saudi Arabia.
  • By the early 1990s, the aviation market re-structured dramatically. The arrival of the Boeing 747-400, a longer-range model of the well-established Boeing 747, allowed airlines to operate non-stop flights between Europe and Asia. This eliminated the need for a technical stop in the Middle East. Consequently, European and Asian carriers reduced their services to the region, creating the motivation for a number of Middle Eastern states and local airlines to protect these air links by undertaking fleet investment and growth. Emirates began adding new aircraft and destinations, growing throughout the 1990s.
  • In 2000’s, growth in the tourism sector aided the local aviation market significantly. This sector, supported by a diverse tourism proposition and extensive hotel infrastructure, provides yet another source of traffic for airlines in the Middle East.

Data from Gulf News suggested a steady rise in international passengers between 2008-2017.

Current Situation

Since the civil aviation industry has developed so rapidly in the Middle East, the region has experienced some difficulties in maintaining the flow of the network. Since more flights are linked to Air Traffic Control than ever before, arrivals and departure times have been somewhat compromised. The infographics below demonstrate the crux of the issue:

Todays Delay

Air Traffic Control are dealing with increased air traffic, sometimes lacking resources and staff.

Furthermore, this issue is likely to snowball, increasing:

Strong Future

Passenger Numbers

Figures accurate of mid-2015: Source: http://nats.aero/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/5961-NATS-Middle-East-Delay-Infographic-v3-1.pdf

Future Predictions

What will this growth look like if it were to continue at these rates? Here are some recent figures, courtesy of Dubai PR Network:

  • The global Air Traffic Control equipment market is expected to reach US$4.23 billion by 2020, according to a market study.
  • Airports in the Arabian Gulf are now expected to handle 450 million passengers by 2020. 
  • Current predictions are also hinting at 5,200 daily air traffic movements by 2030.
  • Middle East air passengers alone are projected to reach the 517 million mark by 2036.

-Current delays (36 mins) to double.


Possibilities for Improvement

Solution 1: Investment in Air Traffic Control

Improve Air Traffic Control

Investing robust funds into Air Traffic Control will help to address system over-loads, under management and staffing issues, which in turn will reduce delays and air traffic congestion. Furthermore, this investment will make its value back, and exceed it, because better infrastructure and services will lead to increased custom.

Solution 2: Investment in Airport Expansion

  To keep pace with fleet expansion and market potential, further investment in airport expansion is required. Dubai is opening its second airport (Al Maktoum) in 2018, Qatar is moving its Doha hub to a new airport, and Abu Dhabi is opening an additional terminal. Investment is also taking place in other parts of the region—for example, the provision of new airport capacity in Oman. These expansions will accommodate the heavily saturated market.

Investing funds in both Air Traffic Control and new capacious airports will give the GCC countries of the Middle East the strength to cope with its most lucrative, ever-changing market.


There are several factors at play in the rise of aviation in the Middle East: the region’s strategic geographic location between Europe and Asia, increasing inbound tourism to the region, and large airport developments over the past couple of decades.

The Gulf’s unique demographics also support a buoyant airline sector, as a number of local countries have sizable expatriate populations. In the UAE, for example, local Emiratis constitute only 16 percent of the country’s total population. There is a large community of affluent expatriates, particularly from Europe and North America, who work in professional positions and have extensive travel requirements, both globally and within the region, for business and leisure. This provides a strong source of traffic for local airlines. There is also a large population of migrant workers, primarily from South and Southeast Asia, who generate high volumes of traffic to and from their home countries. Some states, including the UAE, are also home to substantial communities from other Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Iraq, and Egypt, that represent another source of traffic.

View all ATC Show Industry News