Performance Based Navigation (PBN): UAE’s airspace structure transforms


On 7 December 2017, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) announced the implementation of the largest airspace changes their region has ever seen. On the day that is celebrated around the world as International Civil Aviation Day, the Emirates Flight Information Region (FIR) transformed into the world’s first airspace structure, fully based on Performance Based Navigation (PBN), with a Navigation Specification of RNAV-1(GNSS). The ground-breaking, historic event signaled the completion of the UAE Airspace Restructuring Project (UAE ARP).

The restructuring followed years of extensive analysis, development and collaboration across the UAE aviation community, enabling the evolution of one of the most advanced air traffic management systems in the world. Achieving these results required extensive cooperation from the GCAA Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Centre, Dubai Air Navigation Services, Abu Dhabi Airports Company, Abu Dhabi Department of Transport, Ras Al Khaimah Department of Civil Aviation, Sharjah Department of Civil Aviation, Fujairah Department of Civil Aviation, and many other aviation stakeholders.

The UAE ARP was intended to meet multiple objectives that are aligned with global best practices. The airspace change was designed to: increase UAE Airspace capacities to meet the forecast air traffic demand for 2022; increase access to all UAE airports; improve efficiencies for both aviation system customers and air navigation service providers (ANSPs); and reduce the environmental impact of increasing traffic through more effective air traffic management operations.

PBN uses global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and computerized on-board systems. It offers considerable advantages to traditional sensor-specific navigation, based largely on fixed, ground-based beacons that guide aircraft along published routes via the waypoints that are defined by the beacons.

According to the GCAA’s Director General, H.E Saif Al Suwaidi, “the implementation of the ARP is not only impressive from a technical perspective, to achieve collaboration on such a large scale change required teams of project management and technical experts with dedicated representation from the six UAE ANSPs and five surrounding International Air Traffic Service Providers.”

After thanking all those involved for their hard work and dedication in getting to the historic moment, he noted “the implementation of the UAE ARP has not only demonstrated our capability to safely meet the capacity requirements for the forecast 2040 air traffic demand, but also the ability to deliver environmental efficiency and fuel savings exceeding USD15 million to the airlines customers within the first year after implementation. These sustainable annual fuel savings further translate to around 100,000 Mt of CO², supporting a significant contribution towards the UAE’s Environmental Policy and responsibilities towards ‘Greener’ aviation”

According to Ahmed Al Jallaf, the Chairman of the Project Steering Group, “the project directly involved five of the seven Emirates within the UAE and to date required over 120,000 dedicated working hours, which is 5,000 working days, to develop an airspace design network capable of managing the UAE future requirements. Multiple Fast Time and Real Time simulations in Italy, UK and in the UAE formed critical activities for the design validation and verification of the revised airspace network. The ARP also requires over 250 Air Traffic Controllers to take simulation and theoretical training, the redesign of over two hundred Instrument Flight Procedures and incorporation of thirty new airways”.

Prior to the launch of the UAE ARP, in 2012, in collaboration with the local Departments of Civil Aviation and ANSPs, the GCAA undertook a ‘UAE Airspace Study’ which, among other recommendations, identified a requirement for developing a comprehensive airspace design that will accommodate transition to a full PBN airspace environment to support the increasing demand. This laid the foundation for the UAE ARP.

In 2013, the UAE ARP adopted an industry-wide collaborative approach, which encompassed a three-phase project, and three years later they activated Phase 3, ‘Integration and Implementation’ with the support of globally recognized consultants to ensure the chosen conceptual designs were successfully integrated in an implementable solution. The first iteration of design network implemented on 7 December 2017 should enable the airspace within the Emirates FIR sufficient capacity, capability and efficiency to support the forecast traffic growth to 2040.

This successful implementation prepares the UAE’s airspace network for the forecast traffic growth to 2040, work that includes major expansion projects for both Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion, and the expected capacity demands of Dubai’s Expo 2020. Moreover, it will ensure that aviation will continue to provide a vital contribution to the UAE Gross Domestic Product and the future growth of the United Arab Emirates as a whole.