Michael Wakabi/KAMPALA

Twenty-one African countries are to invest jointly in a communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system to manage their upper airspace.

A memorandum of commitment is expected to be endorsed by members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in October, with the system in operation in late 2002.

The air transport authorities of COMESA countries - Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe - voted in favour of the joint project late last month.

The system is intended to provide COMESA with a seamless upper airspace management system - 24,000ft (7,320m) above sea level - through the use of satellite communications and very small aperture terminal (VSAT) links to reduce dependence on ground aids. It will also support automatic dependent surveillance (ADS).

COMESA intends to establish an ATM company owned by member states and international investors to manage the project. The venture will be led by Safe African Skies Group (SASG) - a consortium of US private sector companies including Lockheed Martin, South Africa's Africon, Edlow Resources and financial advisor KPMG.

COMESA commissioned SASG this year to study the joint CNS/ATM programme. The study is the "most comprehensive" on CNS/ATM systems and "the first of its kind in Africa", says COMESA. It will cover about 60% of the African continent.

SASG has concluded that the project is technically feasible, financially viable, would avoid ATM system duplication and integrate existing lower space navigation aids. The cost of the system will be recovered from airspace user charges.

The COMESA technical study recommends an automated ATM system in the upper airspace that will integrate with approach and terminal traffic at member countries' airports. Control will be provided by two air traffic control centres in the region to which member countries will be linked through workstations in their own territories. Each member state will be responsible for ATM in lower airspace in their countries.

The COMESA project follows recommendations set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) at its Worldwide CNS/ATM Systems Implementation Conference in Brazil last year. Recognising that many countries, especially developing states, would have difficulty in financing and implementing CNS/ATM systems, ICAO called for regional co-operation.

Source: Flight International