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Civil Aviation and Air Transport in the Arab World


In its 17 January 1997 resolution proclaiming 7 December as the International Civil Aviation Day, the United Nations General Assembly said "future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world". Such statement cannot be truer today, with the growing need to meet the "other", the ever-increasing flows of travelers, and the multiplication of low cost carriers (LCCs), recently introduced into the Arab region. The expansion of civil aviation in this part of the world also went hand in hand with, and contributed to, the remarkable development it witnessed in the twentieth century. The growth of the air transport industry in the Arab region was notably recorded in a UN-ESCWA-produced study, entitled "ESCWA Study on Air Transport in the Arab World", carried out by the Globalization and Regional Integration Division (GRID), and published in September 2007.


According to the publication, the Arab air transport sector in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), registered record growth of 14.1%, compared with a 7.6% rate of world passenger traffic growth in 2005. With such rates, the MENA region is considered the world’s fastest growing region, and high growth is expected to continue over 20 years to come. "Future growth of the Arab air transport industry is expected to be driven by an increasing number of tourist arrivals", the study says, estimated at 5% per year, through 2020, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). In 2005, Arab airlines carried 71 million international and domestic passengers, while its cargo load reached 2.6 million tons.


Middle East airports have become important stopovers, especially due to restrictive bilateral agreements, as the ones between Asia and Europe. However, the liberalization of routes and open skies policies will put an end to this catalyst. On the other hand, despite the good performance of the Arab air transport sector, it faces some challenges, not the least of which being the concentration of growth in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), aided by the oil spell, and the fact that major Arab carriers, as well as airports, are government-owned. However, national authorities are beginning to privatize this sector, in order to cope with the growing demands. The celebration of the Civil Aviation Day on 7 December also marks the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in 1944. The 2007 edition of this day bears the theme of "Global Air Transport-A driver of Sustainable Economic, Social and Cultural Development". In the statement released on this occasion, ICAO Secretary-General, Dr. Taïeb Chérif, and the President of the Council, Mr. Roberto Kobeh Gonzàlez, also emphasized the main challenge that the air transport sector, as well as the whole world, is facing: the necessity of environmental protection, alongside the balanced development of the sector. Such sustainable results can only be attained, in this field as in all others, through a harmonized and cooperative approach among all parties concerned, worldwide.