Southern Ring team eyes Kazakhstan, Mongolia

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Having completed a two-day demonstration of automatic dependence surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology in the Caucasus region, air traffic management specialists are hoping to extend their work to areas including Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

The Southern Ring Air Routes demonstrations – which took place in Georgia and Azerbaijan – aimed to illustrate the potential of ADS-B to replace radar surveillance and improve air traffic safety in a region where air navigation infrastructure is often inadequate.

Although the Tbilisi area control centre has recently been upgraded, Georgia still has only two en-route radars for the whole country.

Georgian CAA deputy director Zurab Belkania adds: “Mountains do not allow us to perform [radar] surveillance over our territory. It is not possible to have full radar coverage.”

He says that the terrain also causes communication problems with low altitude aircraft and that the CAA has launched search and rescue operations unnecessarily as a result.

“ADS-B would allow us to solve these problems,” he says.

The Southern Ring states comprise nine former Soviet Republics plus Mongolia. European Union (EU) funding is behind the €1.9 million Southern Ring programme and Swedish CAA subsidiary Swedavia, which led development of the ADS-B datalink technology used in the demonstration, is trying to persuade the EU to maintain support for the project.

Swedavia CNS/ATM project director Sture Ericsson says there are several reasons why the Caucasus region could benefit from ADS-B.

“The existing infrastructure is not good. And because of these country’s financial situation they cannot afford to buy expensive air traffic control equipment,” he states. “Some places do not have power in remote regions to drive radar – but an ADS-B ground station is inexpensive and could run on solar power.”

The demonstration also aimed to show that the Russian-built aircraft used by many Southern Ring airlines could easily be adapted to carry ADS-B equipment.

Two Georgian Airlines aircraft – a Tupolev Tu-154 and Tu-134 – as well as two Azerbaijan Airlines Mil Mi-8 helicopters from the Zabrat helicopter base outside Baku took part in the demonstration. The demonstration team is also planning to equip a Yakovlev Yak-40 with the system.

The demonstration itself comprised a surface guidance and taxiing test, followed by airborne surveillance tests, which involved tracking both Tupolev aircraft as they flew an extended circuit through upper airspace over eastern Georgia. During the second part of the demonstration the Georgian Airlines aircraft conducted a flight between Tbilisi and Baku during which observers onboard could monitor the movement of the Azerbaijani helicopters operating to the oil platforms in the Caspian Sea.

Georgian CAA chairman Giorgi Nijaradze says: “We see this project as a step on the path of the development of civil aviation, and we hope the next step will be in the direction of Asia.”

Although the Southern Ring programme officially ends in June this year the team is looking to extend ADS-B coverage to Kazakhstan.

Azerbaijan Air Navigation Service development department head Elkhan Nakhmedov – who represents the ten Southern Ring states for this project – says Kazakhstan’s vast area would make it an ideal candidate for ADS-B implementation.

He says: “We already have a proposal for an ADS-B ground station in Kazakhstan.”

But he admits to being concerned over the collaborative programme’s future, adding: “I am afraid that if this [Southern Ring] project is not pushed somehow, then it will all come down. There won’t be any joint action or co-operation, and I am afraid of losing this.”

Ericsson says that the team “is hoping to perform another demonstration in Mongolia”. Mongolia’s modernised Ulaanbataar air traffic centre is already capable of conducting ADS-C, whereby controllers specifically contract an aircraft to downlink its position and other data. However the ADS-C service is used only to support procedural operations and Mongolian CAA technical development division officer Puntsag Ganbaatar says that an upgrade to ADS-B could provide “better quality and safety” for traffic monitoring in Mongolian airspace.

ATI acknowledges the assistance of British Mediterranean Airways (BMA) in visiting the Southern Ring states. BMA serves Baku, Bishkek, Tbilisi and Yerevan from London.