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Civil aviation safety advances will support growth in African air travel

Civil aviation safety advancesAfrican civil aviation is said to be five to nine times riskier than the global average, making pledges of significant investment in regional air and ground safety a real contributor to the continent’s attractiveness as a sought after travel and business destination.

What’s needed in the long run is co-ordinated investment in leading-edge technologies to enhance safety and cost efficiencies, which will do much to develop smaller airports which are important for the expansion of African business and tourism avers Bennie Langenhoven, managing executive of Tellumat Air Traffic Management (ATM).

Promising developments include efforts to create a single upper airspace management capability in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region.

He urges African aviation stakeholders to keep an eye on global air transportation and air traffic management advances in the US’s NextGen and EU’s SESAR projects. These, Langenhoven maintains, would require modernisation of the air traffic control (ATC) communications infrastructure on the African continent.

Additionally, installing remote air traffic control technology can provide a cost-effective improvement in ATC and safety at multiple airports while using fewer skilled air traffic controllers located at one control room. “An effective way of managing ATC operating costs over the medium to long term,” he said.

“We also note innovations in technology segments such as energy-efficient LED airfield ground lighting (AGL) as well as advances in satellite-based navigation and solar power solutions for AGL installations.”

It’s been 15 years since LED technology first found application in AGL. Since then, its longevity has been assured by energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, improved safety, lower environmental impact and cost-efficiency.

“From an African perspective, the best LED solutions offer backward compatibility with traditional halogen lighting implementation, protecting airport investments while embracing the low cost of ownership of LED lighting technology.

“Additionally, leading solutions feature intelligent designs, incorporating advances such as software-based manageability and dual-purpose powerline communications, which look to the future and embrace cost efficiencies.

“Adding to advances in LED lighting in AGL applications, we’ve seen increasing use of solar energy in this technology area,” he said.

Harnessing earth’s most abundant energy source – the sun – solar cells collect energy and convert it into usable electricity. But solar is an intermittent energy source, which limits its use at night. Breakthroughs in the use of rechargeable batteries for solar energy storage in GLS systems has roused interest and smart systems take specific geographic conditions such as minimum sunshine hours into consideration, ensuring solar AGL systems never run out of battery power.

“Leading solar-powered AGL solutions further stand out for smart management of solar energy feeding into batteries – needed both for efficiency and to protect batteries from overcharging. This will stand African airports in good stead as they seek low-risk investments that won’t break the bank and bring cutting-edge safety to smaller airports,” Langenhoven said adding future technologies such as satellite-based navigation systems, which are gradually replacing ground-based systems are the other end of the scale.

He is of the opinion remote control air traffic control towers (ATC), which replace on-site air traffic controllers using cameras and data communication links are also worth exploring.

“Where operational budgets are lacking, an ATC tower configuration consisting of a central hub remotely managing multiple airfields, provides an African-suited solution for air traffic control. It has the potential to quickly improve air traffic safety in outlying areas, bringing more destinations into the fold of achieving the required safety standards necessary for airlines to permit the operation of scheduled flights to an airport. In turn, an increase in scheduled flights benefits local economies by creating improved regional access for business and tourism.

“The latest technological advances are applicable to Africa’s challenges around civil aviation safety, as well as its budget constraints and creaky technological legacy. It’s not just a matter of meeting the needs of airports previously considered sub-economical, it has potential for regional air travel expansion, with knock-on economic benefits for African countries and the continent as a whole.

“The continent’s needs can best be met by providers with skills, experience and vendor relationships to satisfy the needs of civil and military airports.

“The credentials most needed are strong OEM relationships for cutting-edge navigational aid systems, including radar, instrument landing systems (ILS), runway lights, precision approach systems, direction finders and weather observation systems.

“No less critical are services, ranging from manufacturing to implementation, support and maintenance of cutting-edge, as well as legacy aviation equipment.

“To meet Africa’s needs for new installations, as well as maintenance and repair of legacy equipment, still prevalent in the region, providers need expertise in systems design, solution integration, installation, maintenance, obsolescence management and repairs,” Langenhoven said.