UAE implements world’s first PBN-only airspace


With air traffic expected to more than double to over 5,000 flight movements daily in the next decade, the Emirates Flight Information Region (FIR) became the world’s first airspace structure to be completely based on Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) in December. PBN uses global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and computerized onboard systems with a navigation specification of RNAV-1 (GNSS).

The United Arab Emirates Air Space Restructuring (UAE ARP) project is designed to enhance airspace capacity to meet the forecasted near-term air traffic demand for 2020 and beyond, increase access to all airports within the country, enable airlines to save fuel consumption of USD 14.6 million, driving CO2 emission reductions of 90,401 metric tons, and enhance air traffic movements to accommodate continuous growth in the Controlled Airspace for Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The successful implementation of the project should “futureproof” the UAE’s airspace network for forecasted traffic growth to 2040, including major expansion projects. 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.


The most extensive airspace changes the region has ever seen were successfully implemented without any disruptions to operations. UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Director General H.E Saif Al Suwaidi said: “I would like to thank all of those involved for their hard work and dedication to getting us to this historic moment in UAE Aviation history. 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 (GCAA, DANS, Abu Dhabi ANS, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah), 15 core agencies (including the UAE National Airlines, UAE Airport Authorities, UAE Military, regulatory representation, IATA and the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology) and the five surrounding International Air Traffic Service Providers” (Bahrain, Muscat, Tehran, Jeddah and Qatar).

H.E. Mohammed A. Ahli, Director General of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and CEO of Dubai Air Navigation Services (dans), stated: “The past three years have demonstrated the importance of cross-sector collaboration for the greater benefit. We are also proud to witness the aviation sector arrive at new and unprecedented fronts.”

“The project directly involved five of the seven Emirates within the UAE and to date has required over 120,000 dedicated man working hours to develop an airspace design network capable of managing the UAE future requirements,” explained Mr. Ahmed Al Jallaf, the Chairman of the Project Steering Group. “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 200 Instrument Flight Procedures and incorporation of 30 new airways.”

The ARP evolved from a study in 2012-13 by Airbus ProSky – prepared in close cooperation with the GCAA and National Airspace Advisory Committee (NASAC) – which produced 53 specific recommendations that will prepare the UAE for the future while alleviating current-day saturation and system limitations. This was followed by a conceptual design for the UAE En Route airspace, including a Collaborative Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) study and operational trial.

The UAE FIR is predominantly a complex En Route environment, with the majority of traffic spending around 85 percent of the flight distance flown in a climb or descent phase. The new design interfaces the appropriate connectivity to Control Area CTAs, which is key to ensuring integration into the overall UAE network route structure and international interfaces. Mr. Hafid El Boukfaoui, Regional Director of Airbus ProSky, noted that a comprehensive design ensures the airspace will be optimally used to support growing aviation needs and activity levels. It also leverages capabilities as they are deployed as part of ICAO Block Upgrades and will accommodate the transition to a full Performance Based Navigation (PBN) airspace environment.

Operators can expect significant PBN network changes for all phases of flight. Introduced for the first time in Emirates FIR were ATS routes, conditional routes (CDR), new holding facilities, SIDs, STARs and instrument approach procedures at UAE airports. Based on the predicted traffic demand, the entire Emirates FIR has been designed according to PBN RNAV 1 specification to space the route structure closer together. Both aircraft and flight crews have to be qualified against PBN RNAV 1 navigation specification requirements, which replaced PBN RNAV 5 specifications. After 7 December 2017, the GCAA was not able to accommodate non RNAV 1 aircraft in the UAE airspace.


Future proofing the UAE’s airspace network for the forecasted growth to 2040 is a parallel activity within the UAE ARP. Through the UAE ARP 3 Integrated Airspace Master Plan (IAMP), a roadmap will be developed to ensure greater capacity and efficiency will be introduced to the network through incremental implementation stages in line with key forecasted aviation milestones. Milestones include the expansion plans for both Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion, as well as Dubai’s EXPO 2020. This allows the UAE network to proactively adapt airspace in a timely manner in order to strategically prepare for significant events, thereby providing the ability to support the strategies of National Aviation Stakeholders.

Recommendations for a Successful Airspace Transition

  • Dedicated project office to manage deliverables and time line;
  • Early interaction with neighbours to establish the limits of any changes;
  • Engage with foreign operators well in advance of planned transition in order to ensure compliance;
  • Continuous quality checks on all data – more is better;
  • Plan training schedules well in advance to ensure readiness of controllers and aircrew;
  • Engage with meteorological providers early in order to obtain accurate forecasts – specifically for the transition day;
  • Dedicated team to ensure ATM system interoperability and enterprise architecture; and
  • Regulations – must be in place to facilitate PBN implementation

Key Design Elements of the AirSpace Restructuring Project

  • Optimization of available airspace;
  • Enhancement of unidirectional route network; Improvement of network efficiency and flexibility;
  • Support UAE FIR/TMA transition into RNAV 1 environment;
  • Introduction of Conditional Routes (CDR);
  • All UAE airports are in the En Route network;
  • Network integration supports forecasted 2020 traffic demand;
  • More efficient departure and arrival network with delay reduction and shortened distance of Dubai CTA entry/exit gates;
  • Dubai CTA entry gates specialized for airport (DXB, DWC, SHU);
  • Optimization of Abu Dhabi CTA entry/exit gates;
  • Additional Western entry gate to support dual downwind structure and additional Western and Eastern exit gates to support simultaneous parallel departures; Optimization of the internal networks with the CTAs; and
  • Incorporation of strategic vertical separation through altitude constraints


About the Author

Mr. Muayyed Al Teneiji is the Head of Airspace Coordination, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) MIDANPIRG PBN SG/3 Meeting, Cairo, Egypt, February 2018

Performance Based Navigation operational approval workshop September 2018 Montreal