[DUBAI] The United Arab Emirates is to start restructuring its crowded air space next year to make room for Gulf carriers' ambitious growth plans.
Like road networks, air space is divided into corridors. Only some is open for use by civilian traffic, while the rest is reserved for military purposes.
With the expansion of air travel from Gulf hubs - as well as existing fleets, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad Airways have almost 700 aircraft on their order books - concerns have been raised that available space for flights will impinge on growth.
"This is a potential risk, which if not responded to today will face severe consequences tomorrow - not only for efficiency but also for safety and security," Ahmed al-Jallaf, deputy director general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), told reporters on Tuesday.
"We don't want things to pile up until an accident takes place."
The project will include work on designing the country's air space into sectors and how each sector will work together for a seamless flow of traffic.
Mr Jallaf said the implementation phase, which could cost hundreds of millions of dirhams, will begin "some time next year" and will be implemented by 2018. Stakeholders, such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports, have approved the initial design and concept phases.
Dubai International Airport already topped the list of the world's busiest airport last year.
A report by Oxford Economics on Tuesday showed that the wider Middle East region could reap US$16.3 billion in economic benefit from enhancing air traffic control systems.
This would result from fewer delays in flights and more time slots available which can then be used for more flights.