Let me share some thoughts on what I see as the Middle East and North Afria (MENA) regions’ four top issues.
The airport infrastructure in MENA demonstrates the foresight of governments wanting to capture aviation’s economic and social benefits. To keep this competitive advantage, continuous consultation is needed so that capital expenditure aligns industry growth, required service levels and acceptable costs.
I will also sound a note of caution on infrastructure privatization. Saudi Arabia has announced privatization plans for 27 airports. Despite many privatizations around the world we have not seen any examples of airport privatization that have truly met expectations. Whatever be the ownership structure, airlines need airports with sufficient capacity and efficient and technically excellent operations.
Even more urgent is the need to modernize air traffic management in the Gulf. A recent study calculates average delays in the Gulf at 29 minutes with the potential to double by 2025. More expensive technology is not the solution. Regional cooperation is.
There has been an unprecedented rise in taxes and charges across the region — about $700 million in extra costs over 2015. The majority of that is from passenger facility charges. A low cost structure is a key component of the region’s success.
Another trend that we must reverse is the proliferation of disparate consumer protection regulations. Regulators in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Jordan and the Arab Civil Aviation Commission are in various stages of activity in this regard.
The fourth item, security, may well be the most challenging. It is a global issue. There are risks and challenges — insider threats, landside exposure at airports, overflight of conflict zones, and cyber security. Efficient airport checkpoints are important.
Our need for cost-efficient infrastructure to meet demand, for reasonable taxation, for the implementation of global standards and for security is in no way selfish.
Yes, it will help our business. But the bigger picture is the contribution that safe, secure, efficient and sustainable air transport makes to the welfare of nations. The business of freedom makes people’s lives better. Nothing should stand in the way of its success!
Edited excerpts from a speech at the AGM of Arab Air Carriers’ Organisation in Morocco.