One of my favourite movies is “Field of Dreams” in which Kevin Costner builds a baseball pitch in the middle of a cornfield for the ghosts of players past. The voices, which encourage Costner’s character to take on this madcap scheme, implore “If you build it they will come”
Crazy right! So it might seem equally crazy that the same approach seems to have been adopted in relation to the expansion of major airports in the Arabian Gulf.
Keen on building a strong and sustainable future for their economies, countries across the Middle East and specifically the Gulf states are investing in billions of dollars in the race to build new airports or expand existing facilities to meet the demands of future air travellers.
Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha are each vying to develop the biggest and grandest transportation hub in the region. Significant investment is also underway at secondary airports such as Muscat, Sharjah and Riyadh. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that around US$40 billion is being invested in airport infrastructure in the Gulf region alone. The estimated cost for the mid field terminal expansion in Abu Dhabi, which is slated for completion in 2017, is a staggering US$6.8 billion and Dubai is expected to invest over US$8.1 billion in Al Maktoum International in order to cater for the influx of visitors during Expo 2020. It’s worth pointing out that these two airports are less than 45 minutes from each other.
There is clearly also an element of competition between the states - which is further heightened by the aspirations of global dominance held by the regional flag carriers particularly Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways – after all nothing symbolises a nation’s aspirations as vividly as their airlines and airports.
The new airports are already battling for superlatives. Doha's soon to open (apparently) Hamad International Airport will house the world's second longest runway; Dubai is closing in on London Heathrow as the world's busiest airport – having recently bested Charles de Gaulle; Abu Dhabi’s mid field terminal occupies seven million square feet – that’s larger than the Pentagon!
Perhaps more telling than the various design features are the airports' planned capacities; combined, they will ultimately accommodate 450 million passengers a year -- a significant jump from the 140 million that currently make their way through the region.
And this is where the region may start to experience might face issues. The regions desire to be a hub for global connectivity is putting pressure on an already saturated airspace – as this is video, which was first shown at the Global Aerospace Summit earlier this month, clearly shows:
The Gulf region is a relatively small area, certainly to sustain four global airport hubs. This is further compounded when you consider that less than 50% of the available airspace is open to civil aviation - indeed travellers using these airports are already experiencing increasing delays.
This issue was acknowledged as a significant threat to the realisation of the regions aerospace aspirations during the recent Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi. However Honeywell technologies do provide a solution.
As a global aerospace technology leader, Honeywell has been applying our thought leadership and development expertise to pioneer a number of technologies to support the modernisation of the world’s airports and air traffic system. Here are just a few of the technologies which would support the rapid expansion of air traffic in the region whilst maintaining the safety of aircraft, passengers and crew.
Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) - Honeywell’s traffic collision avoidance system can track up to 60 aircraft at a range of up to 100nm, mitigating the risk of a potential mid-air collision in congested airspace by providing pilots with enhanced situational awareness and providing a clear course of action.
SmartPath™ - Honeywell’s Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS) is the world’s first and only GBAS to receive European and FAA-Approval. Currently in operations at airports across the globe including Sydney, Newark, Houston, Malaga and Bremen, SmartPath is a cost-effective solution that increases airport capacity, decreases air traffic noise and reduces weather-related delays.
Performance Based Navigation (PBN) - solutions allow aircraft to more efficiently navigate within the airspace system without being dependent on ground-based navigational. These direct routings lead to more efficient use of available airspace and improve safety and operational efficiency for airspace users and air navigation service providers.
Next Generation Flight Management System (NGFMS) - Honeywell’s next generation Flight Management Systems enhance flight planning, navigation and guidance, and provide superior situational awareness for shorter, safer and more direct flights ultimately increasing airport access and airspace usage.
These existing technologies, as well as other future technologies that Honeywell’s engineers innovate in the coming years may well prove critical in helping the Gulf States realise their aspirations. Only time will tell whether building it is enough!