Robert Tod focused on the challenges of airspace congestion that are facing the industry at this summer's Airport Show in Dubai.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a reputation for creativity and growth within many business sectors and aviation is no exception.
Emirates Airline's plans for the future depend heavily on Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC) delivering the required capacity. The challenge within air traffic management (ATM) is to keep pace with that growth.
Runway capacities and the potential increase of the number of airports within the northern emirates is a key focus for industry professionals at present, as is quantifying the future plans for airport development within the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Quantifying the future plans for airport development within the region is a key focus for professionals at present.
The present airspace design within the Dubai Control Area and citing terminal airspace capacity inhibitors are key to investing in the future and it is also important to recognise the strategy of Dubai Air Navigation Services in overcoming the inhibitors.
One of the key components to terminal capacity is the runway utilisation and efficiency of associated airports within that airspace and how many aircraft can land and depart from those runways. Presently within the Dubai Control Area we have three airports, Dubai, Sharjah and Umm Al Qwain with transiting traffic to and from Ras Al Khaimah.
It therefore needs to be determined the maximum theoretical runway capacity of each airport in order to forecast when the terminal airspace will reach maximum capacity. Key to any forecast is the integration of all strategic plans for new airports and estimating what the total demand will be.
At present we know of the plans for Dubai and Al Maktoum International airports and we also know of tentative plans for the following airports: Dubai has dual runways and Al Maktoum International will have six runways planned. Sharjah is expected to extend to two runways, while Ras Al Khaimah will increase its movements due to flying training.
Umm Al Qwain has light aircraft and para dropping flights. Ajman may build a new international airport near Manama, but there is no demand forecast. Fujairah may relocate its operation either west of the mountains or further up the coast.
In order to increase Dubai International Airport's runway capacity it was decided to stagger the runways which is a system that has been phased in over the last two years. Air Traffic Services (ATS) are transitioning from single runway operations through dependent staggered operations to full segregated stagger mode.
In conjunction with this the airport has to manage the present arrival and departure peaks. This is being done by introducing the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) scheduling plan and we are at present in the data collection phase. In order to streamline the decision making processes, all facets of the airport operation are being driven through a master planning group.
In order to operate in a dependent or segregated runway stagger mode we need two tower controllers, one for the landing runway and the other for the departure runway.
To accommodate the two tower controllers we have had to refurbish the physical layout of the tower and this will be completed within the next few months. In the meantime we have managed to have a limited dual runway operation with a single controller but due to the distance of the ATC tower from the threshold of runway 30L we have to restrict operations to a single runway mode when using that direction.
To plan for the future it is important to examine how the terminal airspace design copes with existing traffic demand. Airspace movements in the last 10 years have doubled from 450 per day to 890 per day.
That is a 12% increase year on year over the last six years. It is expected that this growth rate will continue, which could bring us an average daily movement rate of 1400 per day by 2011.
There have been no airspace enhancements since 2001 mainly due to the rapid increase in ATC movements and the need for additional ATS support structure. However, Dubai ATS has now built a sophisticated ATM support structure.
This incorporates an Air Traffic Control (ATC) operations section, a safety and standards section, a training section with full radar and tower simulator support and a projects section that manages the implementation of equipment and procedures as laid down in General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) regulations. This now enables ATS to tackle future airspace design and efficiency.
The present design of airspace is through an inbound and outbound gate system to the Dubai Control Area. There are two inbound one way routes entering through the two main holding fixes at DESDI and BUBIN and four main outbound only routes through RANBI, MAXMO, RIKET and ANVIX. There is a two way route for traffic transiting from Dubai International to Abu Dhabi International Airport. But there are limiting factors to this terminal airspace design.
There are many military flying areas that are permanently closed to civil traffic. This restricts expansion, especially for the new Al Maktoum International Airport. The airspace is planned around RNP5 performance criteria that restricts the optimum SID/STAR routings.
There are many tall buildings that could constitute hazards to air navigation and could limit capacity and, as we get more environmentally conscious we may have to consider aircraft noise into the equation. The location of strategic holds is paramount to ATC efficiency within the Dubai Control Area and there are other airspace capacity inhibitors that will need to be addressed.
In order to achieve maximum capacity within terminal airspace the supporting airways route structure must be capable of supporting this. We can pump as many aircraft off each runway provided the adjacent unit and FIR can handle the traffic flow and capacity could be improved through the introduction of P-RNAV but the airlines and associated aircraft have to be able to comply.
The airspace planners need to know the military training requirements, and coordination of airspace usage must be looked into. We also need more air traffic controllers to open new sectors. Taking into account Dubai and Al Maktoum International Airports we will need in the region of 130 controllers, at present we have 89.
Dubai Air Navigation Services are already recruiting and training controllers. The Dubai ATC training facility is fully stretched but we will be able to meet the demand.
So what are the solutions? The UAE federal authorities need to determine what the traffic demand is going to be from stakeholders, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. From this information an airspace strategy can be adopted.
The federal authority also needs the cooperation of all member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to ensure capacity is maintained. We all need to learn from other states or regions that have already gone through this process, for example Eurocontrol.
Dubai Air Navigation Services' is in the process, in conjunction with NATS of the UK, of designing the airspace to integrate Al Maktoum International Airport. Within this scope of work we have now adopted an airspace sharing procedure with the UAE military.
The NATS scope of work will be extended over the next three years to include enhancements to Dubai Control Area through research and development with the UAE Air Traffic Control Centre. Integration of new technology will play an even bigger part in the way ATC operates and hence improve capacity.
Any new procedures need to be proven before implementation and Dubai will have the capability to achieve this through state of the art simulators.
NATS integrated airspace change proposal includes an initial design concept, which was completed last year and a real time simulation to prove the procedures took place early May 2008.
This will allow us to develop the necessary training programme and submit an airspace change proposal to GCAA. Phase 2b will start in March 2009 and will look into P-RNAV SIDS/STARS, revised sectorisation requirements for Dubai approach radar, inner holding requirements and the impact of high rise buildings on terminal airspace capacity. The last phase will be developed in line with other runway construction timelines.
What is imperative in this ever changing environment is maintaining safety. The high rate of change must be well managed in order to maintain safety and efficiency.
DANS now have well established processes to cope with this rate of change. DANS have implemented an SMS system that enables capture of potential hazards. Safety cases are produced for all procedures and equipment integration.
Airspace simulations are being carried out to prove new procedures before implementation. Our incident investigation procedures have improved and a feedback process allows for potential procedure change. The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) has now been established.
It has complete oversight of both Dubai and Maktoum International airports. The DCAA work closely with GCAA to maintain UAE safety policy and finally with over 120 airlines at Dubai, airline companies must be more proactive in sharing their safety assessments and improving best practice procedures.
Dubai Air Navigation Services continues to invest in the future. The DWC Al Maktoum ATS facility will house a state of the art Raytheon ATM system. This system will incorporate an operational suite of sectors and a training suite of sectors that can be adapted for operational use in the event of catastrophic failure of the main suite.
The Raytheon system will incorporate an HMI that will allow the controller to operate using the label data block. Coordination will use the latest OLDI messaging. The system will also introduce an arrival and departure manager.
This should lead to a more efficient ATC service. The ATS complex will also incorporate a 360 degree 3D tower SIM that will be used for training and for the development of ATC procedures. The ATM system should be operational by mid 2010.
To summarise, in order to achieve a safe and efficient Air Traffic Management System the UAE needs to determine the future traffic demand for the Dubai Control Area. To do that we need to improve our internal collaboration with all potential stakeholders.
The federal authorities must push all GCC countries into adopting a strategy on airspace planning. We must all plan and invest in the future success of ATM in the UAE and the whole of the Middle East region.
Robert Tod is general manager of technical services for the Air Navigation Services Unit at Dubai International and Al Maktoum International Airport.
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