Safe skies key to Africa air travel growth - ATNS

2016-04-19 12:58 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town – Air transport is a vital enabler for Africa’s economic growth. South Africa’s Air Traffic & Navigation Services (ATNS) believes the industry offers huge potential, despite the issues of safety and infrastructure that are often seen as barriers to its development and growth.

African aviation has long had a poor safety record, with the average number of air traffic accidents nine times higher than the global average in 2011. However, things seem to be improving, says ATNS "with the 2015 safety record improving on the 2010-14 period".

Jeoff Motshoba, Executive Air Traffic Management/ Communications, Navigation and Surveillance at Air Traffic & Navigation Services (ATNS) says ATNS is playing a lead role in role in helping to improve safety  and overcome these issues by spearheading moves to create a single upper airspace management control capability for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

Just last week, in a move to adhere to safety standards and Civil Aviation Authority compliance, South African Airways (SAA) cancelled it flights to and from Lilongwe Kamuzu International Airport in Malawi. 

SAA said the cancellation was due to the change of category status and resultant conditions at the airport "which are currently not compatible with prescribed operational requirements for SAA to continue its scheduled services to and from Lilongwe".

A spokesperson for the Malawi Civil Aviation Authority Alfred Mtilatila, confirmed to Traveller24 that Kamuzu International Airport, which normally operates at Category 9 (with reference to the level of fire and rescue services capability) thereby able to accommodate aircraft similar in size and capacity to Boeing 747, had been downgraded due to "one big fire fighting vehicle breaking down".

The airport was not able to accommodate the South African Airways flight. The airport did make alternative arrangements but only sufficient for a "category 7 listing, which can accommodate aircraft up to size and capacity of Boeing 737", according to Mtilatila.

"Managing SADC's upper airspace holistically"

“By managing the region’s upper airspace holistically we will not only reduce the cost of air travel, we will make it significantly safer,” Motshoba says.

“It’s one of the things mandated by the Yamoussoukro Declaration, which was signed in 1999 but which is not yet fully implemented.”

The Declaration calls for the liberalisation of African skies for African airlines, and the establishment of a single African air transport market. ATNS as the lead operator of the SADC initiative is acting as advisor and liaison with the equivalent organisation in the north of Africa.

“This kind of integrated approach will also save money as expensive technology can be shared.”

"Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network"

One example would be the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network created and operated by ATNS, which has been providing communication services to air traffic authorities across the SADC region for the past 10 years. Egypt manages a similar service for the northern region.

“Making sure that we roll out an air traffic infrastructure that makes use of the best technology is one side of the coin; the other is having a deep pool of talent with the skills needed to use that technology,” says Matshoba. “ATNS is playing an important role here, too, with our Aviation Training Academy being one of the continent’s leading trainers of the air traffic controllers and engineers of the future.”

The ATNS Aviation Training Academy is IATA’s regional training provider for the Africa-Indian Ocean region, and it was one of IATA’s Worldwide Top Regional Training Partners in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. In addition, the Academy was named a Regional Training Centre of Excellence at the end of 2015 by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) —one of only 16 globally.

“There’s no doubt that the African growth story remains resilient in the face both of global and continental challenges. However, in order to capitalise on our growth potential, we have to ensure that we have integrated transport solutions in place to promote regional, continental and inter-continental trade,” says Motshoba.

 “Aviation, in particular, has a critical role to play in providing the kind of infrastructure that a competitive modern economy needs. South Africa, as the continent’s most advanced aviation market, has the opportunity and obligation to help build this vital piece of Africa’s infrastructure.”

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