USAF Africa looks at air domain

US Air Forces Africa (USAFA), part of US Africa Command (Africom) is building a programme of action to address air domain challenges facing African nations.
USAFA plans to tackle issues including Africa`s lack of infrastructure, technology, formal maintenance programs and communication, combined with an 11% per year growth of air traffic. “The purpose of the program is to bolster air safety and security on the continent”, a US Seventeenth Air Force media statement adds. (The 17th Air Force is the numbered air force assigned to Africom and USAFA).
USAFA deputy director of plans Lieutenant Colonel David MacKenzie has just visited Nigeria at the invitation of the country`s Chief of Air Staff to work with Nigerian and US aviation experts “to chart the future of Nigeria’s air domain program and discuss US search and rescue program and its capabilities”.
“This was really a comprehensive and synchronized effort to enhance partner capacity in building Nigeria’s air domain,” MacKenzie said.

During the first portion of his 10-day visit, MacKenzie brought his expertise as a C-130 pilot and instructor to an assessment of the Nigerian Air Force C-130 fleet and its logistics program. With only one of its eight C-130 aircraft currently airworthy, the team evaluated the others for possible reconstitution, placing heavy emphasis on the maintenance required to keep them safely in the air.
“It’s not just about fixing the aircraft,” MacKenzie said. “There is a big sustainment piece in the supply, logistics and training areas as well. Spare parts should be available and a supply system for technical orders and back shop equipment, plus training for your maintenance, communications and supply people is required.”

The rebuilding of the C-130 fleet will facilitate Nigeria’s commitment to support peacekeeping operations in Africa through airlift of indigenous or neighbouring troops and equipment. On the ground, Nigeria is building a force of seven peacekeeping battalions to support African Union and United Nations peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia. “Right now, they have very limited ways to get people to the fight or sustain them when they are there,” MacKenzie added.  

MacKenzie’s findings during this assessment will help shape future Theatre Security Cooperation plans with Nigeria as air domain issues are addressed through military-to-military capacity building events through the State Partnership Program, joint exercises, conferences, and senior leader engagements.

While the Nigerian Air Force is focused on refurbishing its C-130 fleet, its civil aviation leaders are taking a hard look at equally important search and rescue procedures.

More than 25 members from various civil aviation sectors, to include the head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Administration, the Director General and the Search and Rescue Director of the National Emergency Management Agency, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, and the Federal Aviation Administration of Nigeria, along with local fire and air traffic control representatives, attended MacKenzie’s presentation and participated in the discussions on air travel in Nigeria.
“Search and rescue really takes a coordinated approach,” MacKenzie said. “They discussed the need to exercise their programs…through tabletop and field exercises…so they’ll be better prepared when something happens. That’s not the time you want to be testing your communications and procedures.”

MacKenzie referred to the recent US Airways accident in the Hudson River as an example of well-practiced rescue procedures. “We talked about the quick response of the rescue folks on the ground as part of that success story. Those who had boats in the water–park service, ferry operators, New York City police–wasted no time in getting to the wreckage to render aid to the survivors. That was critical in minimizing injuries and saving lives.”

The US Air Force’s Air Domain Safety and Security program is a three-tiered program designed to capitalize on “natural air linkages” where US Air Force programs and capabilities can contribute to increasing capacity within the military and civil aviation programs on the continent.

Speaking at the African Aviation Leadership Conference in August, 2008, an official with the Federal Aviation Administration noted that in the 10-year period between 1994 and 2004, African nations accounted for only 4.5 percent of the world’s total air traffic but owned a startling 25 percent of aviation accidents.
“We hope the Nigerians establish a safe and efficient air domain model in Nigeria and hope it takes root and spreads,” MacKenzie said. “It will, if the leaders there have the political will to share and teach others in the region.”