Watching this space

With space-based air traffic management gaining traction globally, Thomas Kgokolo, the interim CEO of South Africa’s Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS), speaks to Keith Mwanalushi about system integration in Africa.

Automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology is currently all the rage in air traffic management (ATM).
Eliminating the need for often costly ground-based infrastructure, a space-based ATM network could, theoretically, monitor the entire globe.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has indicated that in Africa, being a technology consumer with limited resources, the cost effectiveness of ADS-B aeronautical surveillance service provision would make a significant difference, compared to current radar systems.
Africa sees a very small percentage of global air traffic but Kgokolo feels the size of the market has no real relevance, as air navigation service providers (ATNSP) are expected to provide a safe and efficient service to all airspace users.
“The introduction of ADS-B is assisting ANSPs to have a better spectrum of cooperative surveillance solutions to choose from when they have to design and support airspace operations,” said Kgokolo.
He added that a hybrid combination of sensors (PSR, SSR, WAM, MLAT, MSPSR, ADS-B, A-SMGCS, etc) may be used to realise the necessary service. “The different solutions have their benefits and disadvantages, and the challenge is to use the best technical solution for the need, not merely looking at the establishment costs, but considering the full life-cycle-costing of the system plus all supporting services.”
Kgokolo reckoned this was only part of the challenge in the region. He suggested that a surveillance system must be supported by a capable air traffic management system to consolidate the multiple surveillance sensors into an air situation picture for controlling purposes. “The impact of this component is not always considered when surveillance solutions are sourced,” he felt.
Given the unique challenges faced in Africa, this consideration is even more critical. The main drivers in these considerations are air traffic services required, separation standards, availability, electrical supply, telecommunication supply, preventative maintenance, corrective maintenance, accessibility, environmental aspects, and so on. From this list, requirements should be considered individually, as well as how they support the rest of the ATM system.
The issue of avionics equipment to access ADS-B still stands. In the US, the FAA has set a deadline of this month for aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B capability, while for counterparts in Europe the deadline was extended to June 2020.
According to the ICAO, issues around the implementation of air navigation service systems, with regards to avionics equipment, are generally addressed in the African-Indian Ocean (AFI) region, in the first instance, through bilateral consultation between ANSPs and airspace users. For states in this region, avionics modifications are expected to continue to January 2025.
Kgokolo feels avionics equipment is still a concern. He said this was due to various contributing factors (type of avionics, age of avionics, etc). “That said, the alignment of equipment at a regional level should be such that it transfers the full cost-benefit potential to the airspace users. If the region works on the same technology requirements and similar timelines, a user can have the operational benefits on the full flight trajectory, rather than be restricted to pockets of equipment and, thus, not achieve the full economic benefit from take-off to landing,” he explained.
Domestically, Kgokolo reported that South African airspace is currently supported with the required surveillance equipment and associated service delivery. The airspace is, furthermore, structured along continental airspace and oceanic airspace.
The benefit of ADS-B (conventional and/or space based) in continental airspace lies in the complementary service offerings – reacting to changes in operational requirements where current services may be extended, filling of coverage gaps in certain areas on certain flight levels, or deploying redundancy to support more stringent operational expectations.
The benefit of space-based ADS-B is that it can work in remote or oceanic airspace.
Kgokolo said: “As we know, the enhanced surveillance capabilities may not lead to reduced separation in oceanic airspace, but it will support situational awareness of both the controller and the larger air traffic management system.”
And the ultimate benefit will be the support capabilities during emergency situations in these remote areas.