Lindi-Lee Kirkman, International Air Transport Association (IATA) manager for safety and flight operations in Africa, looks at the issue of unifying the continent’s airspace to determine if it is a dream or reality.
The concept of having a single unified airspace is not one that is new. Indeed, this concept has been, or is in the process of being, implemented in numerous parts of the globe.
The most famous of these is the European single sky, where the national airspace of multiple states is designed, managed and regulated through a central body and decisions are made collaboratively to enhance the overall safety, efficiency and equity of the total aviation system without affecting the sovereignty of states.
This, too, is an objective for the African region, where high levels of disparity exist in the deployment of communication, navigation and surveillance equipment, and the provision of air traffic management (ATM), which has an undesirable effect on safety, efficiency and equitable service delivery to a growing aviation community.
There are currently various initiatives in the African region looking at creating regional upper-airspace control centres, with the aim of standardising air navigation regulations, standards, infrastructure and service provision across multiple flight information regions (FIRs).
A long-standing example of a single organisation managing about 16.1 million square kilometres of the region’s airspace is ASECNA – the L’Agence pour la Sécurité de la Navigation Aérienne en Afrique et à Madagascar (Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa & Madagascar) – which covers 17 mostly francophone African states, and six FIRs, bringing consistency to ATM in its area of responsibility.
Work is also well under way towards the establishment of the southern African development community upper-airspace control centre (SADC UACC), where members will cooperate in the management of the airspace above flight level 245, which will be controlled from a single control centre.
The east African community (EAC) is also in the process of establishing a unified FIR (UFIR) covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.
The Indian Ocean strategic partnership to reduce emissions (INSPIRE) is a collaborative group of participants across organisations, states and stakeholders, dedicated to improving the efficiency and sustainability of aviation in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea regions. It is a shining example of how cooperation and collaboration can bring about tangible wins in operational efficiency for all phases of flight, from gate to gate and everything in-between.
The establishment of the user preferred routing (UPR) zone over the Indian Ocean, covering multiple FIRs, is another example of the collaboration of partners bringing about standardised ATM over the region.
In addition, the regional implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation system block upgrade (ASBU) will bring all states in line, not only with regional requirements, but also with global requirements, for performance-based communication, navigation, surveillance and service provision in the African region.
IATA is vigorously pursuing a unified African sky through active participation in numerous fora, such as the ASECNA technical panel, the COMESA USUA task force and the SADC civil aviation committee meetings. IATA is also collaborating with other stakeholders such as the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) towards this goal.
Africa has the unified African sky in its cross hairs. (africanaerospace, text + photo)