Opening of Iraq to hit ATC operations in the Levant
Once airlines begin to overfly Iraq, Jordan and Syria could lose up to 50% of their ATC fees, while Saudi Arabia and Iran are also likely to lose some flights to Iraq.
The opening up of Iraqi air space to commercial flights is set to seriously impact on neighbouring countries’ air traffic control revenue. Once airlines begin to overfly Iraq, Jordan and Syria could lose up to 50% of their ATC fees, while Saudi Arabia and Iran are also likely to lose some flights to Iraq. Altogether, the neighbouring countries could lose as much as US $20 million per year to Iraq.
The Middle East is the second busiest air lane in the world, after the north Atlantic. Aside from the sizeable local movements, the region also captures the vast majority of traffic from Europe to India, South East Asia and Australia. The most direct route to these points is over Iraqi airspace, but until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, airlines had been forced to bypass the country and instead overfly neighbouring states, which adds as much as 30 minutes to journey times. However, a new ATC system has now been installed in Iraq, and airlines have started to apply to Regional Air Mobility Control Centre (RAMCC) in Qatar for permission to overfly the country.
“Most of the airlines, especially the airlines based in the Gulf, have applied to overfly Iraq,” says Jehad Faqir, director of safety, operations & infrastructure, Middle East, IATA. “One or two airlines have already received the approval. They haven’t started [flights] yet, but they are in the process of doing so soon,” he adds.
Iraq is technically ready to begin handling flights. An ATC system using six satellite groundstations spread around the country has been installed by ND SatCom, and it was officially handed over to IATA three months ago. The system is fully operational and it is linked into the international ATC network via Kuwait, so pilots will receive all the weather services, notices to airmen and radar readings, for instance, that they need.
“There is technically no reason not to fly into [or over] Iraq,” says Rainer Kurz, ND SatCom’s key account manager for air traffic control systems. “Everything a commercial pilot needs is available and connected to the international network via Kuwait. Everything else is to do with political and security reasons,” he adds.
The ATC system is currently being used to handle military traffic, cargo flights and commercial flights into and out of Kuwait. However, it is set to capture a sizeable share of the overflights market as well, once airlines begin to use it. Estimates suggest that Iraq’s ATC could eventually handle as many as 50 000 flights a year. This figure includes flights into the country itself, and a general growth in overall traffic, but it will also encompass as much as 50% of the flights currently passing over neighbouring states, especially Jordan and Syria. “These countries heavily depend on the revenues from the overflights,” says Faqir.
“Saudi Arabia is dependent [on this revenue] to a lesser degree because it is a large country and it has a lot of traffic east-west and north-south, but it will notice a drop in traffic. However, for other countries like Jordan and Syria, it will be more noticeable,” he adds.
Iraq has set a US $375 overflight fee, which is comparable to neighbouring states. However, these countries are fighting back by cutting their ATC fees. Jordan, for instance, has recently announced a 20% reduction in airport overflight charges. Iran, which is now more expensive than Iraq, is also likely to respond, as it has been particularly aggressive over the last couple of years. By lowering its ATC fees the country has successfully managed to snatch a large chunk of flights from Saudi Arabia.