South African pilots' association warns of dangers posed by inadequate infrastructure

Airline safety over large parts of Africa is under threat because of the surge in flights over the continent, rendering the long-standing broadcast air-to-air pilot position reporting procedure inadequate due to radio clutter, says the Airline Pilots' Association of South Africa (ALPA-SA).

ALPA-SA president Capt Gawie van Rooyen says it is eight times more dangerous to fly over parts of Africa than in the developed world. Problems include inadequate maintenance of navigation facilities, poor safety oversight, communication problems and lack of training. Van Rooyen says dangerous areas are from Angola northwards, particularly the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). "Generally, there is chaos on the ground so you don't get any orders from them," he says. "I've personally experienced [occasions] when we've flown over countries and we couldn't even get the weather from them."

To cope, pilots use an in-flight position broadcasting procedure, "but now people broadcast at the same time and just block each other out. It has become such a congested frequency that you now have to have an extra guy listening in to try and form a mental picture of who is where, because there is also crossing traffic at all sorts of levels and you can't trust the communication between ground stations and aircraft. have to wait five to 10min to get a word in."

Overflight fees are seldom used to improve aviation infrastructure, says Van Rooyen. "In Kinshasa [DRC], for example, there is no fence around the airfield and the runway is so rough that the passengers sometimes scream when you take off."

Van Rooyen says ALPA-SA is working with South Africa's Air Traffic and Navigational Services to find a political solution that will get a satellite-based automatic dependent surveillance system for central Africa. "Then you do not need all that infrastructure on the ground and it would be a lot cheaper."


Source: Flight International