Cathay Pacific bemoans lack of Asian ATM co-ordination

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Cathay Pacific says that failure to co-ordinate implementation of air traffic management capabilities in Asia mean that the airline is seeing no benefit from its investment in FANS-1/A avionics, and adds that it cannot justify installing FANS in the remaining one-third of its fleet.

The Hong Kong-based carrier equipped 65% of its fleet with the FANS-1/A avionics package, expecting the system to cut costs through improved navigation and communication efficiency.

But Cathay Pacific manager of international operations Owen Dell says that, owing to continuing organisational and co-ordination problems in Asia, the airline has not seen the level of returns enjoyed on Pacific services by other FANS-equipped carriers such as United Airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas.

Speaking at the recent ATN2002 conference in London, Dell said: “Our cost-benefit is negative. We’ve seen a huge negative cost-benefit to this day for our investment in FANS-1/A. We see no positive business case now, or in the foreseeable future, for Cathay Pacific to retrofit the remaining 35% of its fleet.

“We just don’t see it, and that concerns us – not necessarily because of the money we’ve spent in the past but because of the benefits which could be derived if this technology became routinely available [for use in Asia].”

Dell gives examples of the particular difficulties in the region, such as the spread of new air traffic management technology without clear guidance.

He points out the case of an Asian state which already has overlapping radar coverage from adjacent countries, and which has also installed two radars of its own. In addition it is making automatic dependent surveillance (ADS) available for the main air route – which takes only seven minutes’ flying time to cross.

“This is one of the problems we face in Asia – the proliferation of facilities where they cannot be justified,” says Dell. “But they exist, we’re paying for them, and we’re seeing no benefits from them.”

In another case he says that Cathay Pacific accidentally discovered that an air traffic services provider, with which the airline was involved in an informal trial, had charged the carrier more than $9,000 for a single month’s worth of ADS reports.

“Needless to say we no longer log-on with that air traffic services provider. So there’s no ADS and controller-pilot datalink (CPDLC) available through their flight information region – even though they have regularly instructed our aircraft to log-on.”

Dell says that the airline is forced to spend an extraordinary amount of time having to discuss issues such as weather and high-frequency radio communications quality, and adds: “We would solve all this easily if we just had ADS and CPDLC working across, for example, the Bay of Bengal. It’s all we need – all the other problems don’t disappear but they become very easy to manage from an air traffic control perspective.”

ICAO’s regional office has, he says, agreed to launch a new effort to resolve some of these issues, focusing on the problematic Bay of Bengal area – a notorious bottleneck for traffic – and forming working groups to address the western Pacific and South China Sea region. He adds that IATA is making ADS and CPDLC in Asia a priority.

“There are efforts in the Pacific to ensure co-ordinated implementation but there is no such effort in Asia,” says Dell. He says: “Interoperability issues in terms of the air traffic services providers have a long way to go. If [the new technology] is not easily interoperable then it won’t work. If it doesn’t work from end to end, then it doesn’t work at all.”