Saudi’s Visionary Ambitions are Changing The Middle East’s Aviation Landscape

Saudi's Visionary Ambitions are Changing The Middle East's Aviation Landscape

An article by Chris Allan - Head of Accounts & Partnerships (East)

Through the ambitious Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is looking far beyond the impact of COVID-19, investing billions of dollars in aviation infrastructure and driving the Kingdom’s collective growth ambitions.

Chris Allan photo

Last month I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the first ever Future Aviation Forum which took place at the King Abdulaziz International Conference Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The aim of the event? ‘To unite international leaders from both private and public sectors to shape the evolution of international air travel and put forward new solutions.’

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Over 2,000 people attended the Future Aviation Forum as well as and multiple industry leaders from every continent. The forum focussed on three core thematic pillars: passenger experience, sustainability, and post-Covid recovery – themes that are no doubt at the forefront of the minds of all aviation related businesses this year.

Future Aviation Forum: Strategic Content Pillars diagram

The event itself was truly remarkable and clearly articulated the Kingdom’s commitment and drive towards international collaboration, and desire to harness cutting edge capabilities and technologies.

Many notable and influential speakers attended including H.E. Eng. Saleh bin Nasser bin Alali Aljasser, Minister of Transport, Saudi Arabia, Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Transport, Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA and Salvatore Sciacchitano, the sixth President of the ICAO Council.

The forum really demonstrated the General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia’s alignment with the wider Saudi Vision 2030 and commitment towards significant, sustainable growth within the Kingdom as it continues to diversify its economy.

Saudi Vision 2030 logo

Over the next 10 years, Saudi Arabia is committing an incredible $100billion to the aviation sector in a drive to accelerate the country’s development away from a reliance on oil exports.

During the next decade, the Kingdom plans to create new airports, airspace, airlines and infrastructure to increase their passenger numbers from 100m to 300m a year. Saudi’s bold and ambitious programme shows how aviation is a fundamental economic catalyst for broader prosperity.

I was joined on my specific panel by representatives from Thales, Indra, ICAO and Saudi Air Navigation Services (SANS), discussing Air Traffic Management and Airspace Modernisation.

The discussion focused on how Air Traffic Management should adapt to support airlines, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and airports in order to optimise the utilisation of existing airspace and ground-based infrastructure. We discussed the opportunities that now exist to do things better.

Looking back at 2019 and the topic of discussion was often of record air traffic movements and passenger numbers. Now, after a tumultuous two years it's certainly beginning to feel like the aviation industry is finally emerging from the shadow of the Covid crisis.

As the recovery continues to take hold, capacity, operational resilience and sustainability are all creeping back up the agenda with a refocused eye to do things better.

As the recovery continues to take hold, capacity, operational resilience and sustainability are all creeping back up the agenda with a refocused eye to do things better.

Advancements in air traffic management capabilities, either in terms of airport/airspace management or the deployment of new technologies are critical enablers to deliver against the objectives raised at the Future Aviation Forum.

The ability for these technologies to ‘sweat assets’ and deliver tangible benefits can often provide a welcome delay before significant capital investments and be deployed at a fraction of the cost.

It is clear that there is currently a window of opportunity to take advantage of this shift in focus from survival to rebuilding and to solidify engagement into effective transformation programmes.

Working with NAV CANADA and Leidos, we recently deployed one of these technologies – Intelligent Approach - into Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Intelligent Approach will work alongside the current infrastructure and will enable one to two additional approaches per hour, particularly in high wind conditions. That additional tactical capacity across the airport’s five runways will also help reduce delays, fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

It's important to remember that airspace design also plays a huge part towards environmental performance as well as capacity.

During my panel, I discussed our introduction of Free Route Airspace into UK skies where airway route structures are removed above 25,000 ft, allowing aircraft to fly the route they want to between a defined entry and exit point. It allows airlines the freedom to plan and fly their optimal route considering things such as weather and wind speed.

It's important to remember that airspace design plays a huge part towards environmental performance as well as capacity.

The introduction of FRA in Scottish airspace alone will save CO2 equivalent to the power used by 3,500 family homes every year showing just how much of a difference fit for purpose airspace can make.

Looking back, the Future Aviation Forum clearly showcased not just the ambitious future of aviation for Saudi Arabia, but also the indirect evolutionary requirements needed both regionally and internationally in order to support their anticipated growth.

Without commitment to capital investment from others, in the same manner shown through Vision 2030, airport authorities and ANSPs should consider the adoption of technologies and a data driven approach that can optimise existing assets, whilst in parallel developing their own master planning requirements going forwards.

I came away from the event energised by the passion demonstrated by the international participants at the Future Aviation Forum, the outlook for aviation in the Middle East and the future goals and aspirations of Saudi Arabia as a whole.

Article author

Chris Allan / Head of Accounts & Partnerships (East)

As a former Air Traffic Controller with over 20 years of Air Traffic Management experience, Chris Allan has directed, developed and deployed a broad spectrum of innovative solutions for international airports, Air Navigation Service Providers and airlines.

Throughout his career, Chris has held a number of senior roles whilst based in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and currently holds the position of Head of Accounts and Partnerships for Asia Pacific, based in Singapore. He is responsible for NATS’ International business interests throughout the Asia Pacific region.

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