TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT

Saudi Arabia 2019-2020 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ryyan Tarabzoni, CEO of Saudi Air Navigation Services (SANS), on demand, Vision 2030, and localizing technology.

How have SANS' operations evolved to adjust to the increased demand for traveling and traffic management services that Saudi Arabia is witnessing?

2019 was a successful year in which we established solid foundations that helped us to fulfill our transformation strategy journey and plan, where the main focus was on uplifting the infrastructure, standardization plan, and shaping the journey to optimization. In addition, we defined five strategic pillars to support our strategy: safe operation, efficiency, human capital and people focused, financial effectiveness, and strategic partnership. We obtained the first ever Air Navigation Service certificate in Saudi Arabia from GACA, moved ahead with our Safety Maturity level to meet international standards, and by 2020 we will have achieved huge enhancements in our operations through our new ATM system, new surveillance and communication systems. At an employee level; we have invested considerably in ensuring our air traffic controllers, technicians & engineers, and broadly speaking, our leaders, received multiple certifications to guarantee the quality of our staff remains at the highest levels. From a financial aspect; we focused on cost effectiveness as well as starting to diversify our revenue income beyond the traditional navigation fees. We contracted our first project—NEOM airport—which included installing and commissioning of the navigation systems. We look forward to having system installation, project management, maintenance, technology, and navigation design services among the key areas in which we seek to expand our operations in order to diversify our revenues, for which we will pay special attention to new and secondary airports. Finally, we were recognized as the first ANSP in the region to establish a CRM system to improve customer relations, thus allowing all our customers to easily share their comments and concerns. Receiving such feedback will allow us to take the entire service and experience to a new level. Indeed, 2020 will see us continue our journey with a focus on optimization and how we can take our services to the next level through safe operations, more efficiency and adding value to our customers.

What is the current status of the aviation industry in Saudi Arabia, and what does the future hold?

With Vision 2030 and GACA aviation strategy, we look forward to transforming Saudi Arabia into a true hub for the region and ensuring efficient cooperation and communication among all stakeholders involved in the aviation industry. Developing the appropriate infrastructure will be crucial, which is why the new terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport will play out as a new operation ground for all aviation players to come together to accommodate growing traffic at the safest and most efficient operational level. That being said, a healthy balance between skilled people, capital and advanced technology will complete the circle. The capability of talents in the future will be different. Technology is moving faster than anyone imagined, so everyone must adapt to the new innovations, and the entire ecosystem needs to be ready to stay ahead of the curve. While air traffic control will still be needed, navigation technology will force a new set of skills to be adopted by our controllers. For example: virtual and digital capabilities and skills. Infrastructural technology changes will require talents and skill changes, which is why our training department is working closely with our engineering department to predict the direction and scope of technology in the next five to 10 years and adjust the hiring and training process accordingly.

What emerging technologies are shaping the field of air navigation systems, and how should Saudi Arabia position itself with regard to localizing technology?

Digital/virtual towers and drone systems are two hot topics shaping the conversation in the aviation industry, though implementing these new technologies with the appropriate safety and standardized practices presents both an operational and regulatory challenge. However, this challenge can be also seen as an area for growth, and finding the right balance to ensure this growth remains sustainable in the long-term is therefore crucial. On one hand, large government entities like SAMI are working on localizing technologies to deliver long-term sustainable growth of the aviation industry and the overall Saudi economy. On the other hand, some advanced technologies may prove too costly to be developed locally. In this sense, partnerships, especially small partnerships, are critical for future technologies to be implemented in operations. There is a great appetite for foreign players to invest in the country, and Saudi Arabia can handle a great deal of that externally induced growth to then transfer it internally over the years. Moreover, Vision 2030 allows stakeholders from the civilian front to engage constantly with their military counterparts, which in our case, led to the delivery of multiple areas of flexible user airspace. This proves once more how all factors are aligned for the aerospace industry to grow organically within the country and act as a true economic catalyst for the new era of Saudi Arabia.