Age is beautiful for many African airports, which have avoided the biggest problems in becoming Y2K compliant

Michael Wakabi/KAMPALA

Africa is never short of contradictions. In the run-up to the year 2000, the very things that made some African airports the laughing stock of yesteryear are the reason that there has been little to do beyond routine audits of year 2000 (Y2K) compliance. Compared to the anxiety that may be the lot of their counterparts in the northern hemisphere, aviation managers in Africa are laughing all the way to the millennium eve.

But to ensure that African skies will be safe for passengers and airlines, the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) regional office for Africa has scheduled a meeting for all stakeholders. Taking place in Nairobi on 29-30 November, the meeting will examine levels of preparedness by the different African countries and consider what can be done to help members that will be found lagging behind.

At present, the US Department of Transportation, which promised to go public with basic Y2K status information for the benefit of US travellers, quotes Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Libya and Sierra Leone as being the only African states which have not yet reported their Y2K status to ICAO. Failure to report may be unwise, but it does not prove non-compliance, just as having filed Y2K status with ICAO does not necessarily guarantee total compliance.

The US European Command regularly operates in and out of Africa for training, humanitarian missions and the occasional contingency, but it says that the prospect of Y2K breakdowns does not pose a threat to its operations there.

The continent's airports

On the one hand are newly built airports such as Kenya's Eldoret International, which are equipped with fully compliant systems, while on the other are older-generation airports where semi-automatic and manual systems remain in widespread use. In both cases, this has made them largely immune to the millennium bug.

This is the case in Kenya and Tanzania, where aviation managers say Y2K compliance has been a big problem because most of the mission critical systems depend on technology that is not time sensitive. While it may have been a disadvantage yesterday, lack of automation is proving a boon for cash-strapped African governments. By the beginning of November, all East African airports had completed Y2K audits and were testing contingency plans. For instance, a rare collaborative effort between equipment manufacturers, suppliers and aviation managers is ensuring that Ugandan skies will be safe by the time the date changes over.

By last month, all safety-critical equipment had been confirmed Y2K ready. Navigation aids were certified, except for a problem with the remote control and monitoring system that logs events. The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority says the manufacturer had been paid and was due to supply a software change by mid-November. This was not expected to affect the operational functions of the navigation aids, however.

Audits of the operators and aircraft registered in Uganda indicated a positive Y2K readiness status. Most smaller aircraft have no equipment that would be affected by the Y2K bug, while foreign airlines that use Entebbe International report compliance. Entebbe has put in place generators and full radio back-up systems to handle any emergencies.


Kenya has four major airports: Jomo Kenyatta International and Wilson Airport in Nairobi, Moi International in Mombasa and Eldoret International in western Kenya. Wilson Airport is a busy domestic hub - and the busiest in East Africa. Jomo Kenyatta is the major international gateway, while Moi International was built to cater for tourist traffic to the coast. Eldoret, opened in 1995, is Kenya's newest airport and was designed to handle cargo and tourist charters on the western circuit.

In December last year, the management of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) appointed a Y2K Technical Team to address the millennium bug issue. The team was mandated to carry out an inventory of the authority's systems and equipment, assess and, where necessary, fix and test them for Y2K readiness.

According to the KAA, that task, which took place in January, revealed that close to 90% of the systems were already Y2K ready, mainly because they were electromechanically operated or purely manual with no date-related functionality.

Of the few automated systems, the initial assessment revealed only four major systems that were non-compliant. These included the flight information display system (FIDS) and power monitoring control system at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and the FIDS and PABX/intercom at Moi International. The Kenya College of Communications and Technology was hired as consultant in July to assist the internal team in final assessment, redemption, testing and contingency planning. Final assessment of all systems has been completed and the FIDS at Jomo Kenyatta was fixed in August, while the power monitoring system was compliant by October.

This has made Jomo Kenyatta's systems fully Y2K compliant as are those of other major Kenyan airports. Virtually all operations at Kenya's domestic airports are manual and, in the absence of the sophisticated systems found at the international airports, there has been little cause for concern in terms of their Y2K preparedness.

Contingency plans for specific systems at Kenyan airports were expected by mid-November. They essntially revolve around a reversion to manual bypasses for all automated airport systems.


Tanzania controls Rwanda air traffic control (ATC). If only for that reason, Rwandan aviation managers should have little to worry about with compliance of their air navigation systems. According to the Rwandan National Y2K Task Force, except for the flight display system, the systems at Kigali International are manual and, therefore, not time sensitive.

With no instrument landing system in place, and just three or four flights daily, contingency planning in Kigali has revolved around back-ups for systems such as power generation and telecommunication.

Tanzania has four major airports: Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and Mwanza. According to the Tanzania Directory of Civil Aviation, while contingency plans have been made for ATC, checks on old systems have established that they are Y2K immune.

Wild cards

Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)are wild cards. Uganda handles ATC in the eastern DRC, but the region has not known peace since 1996. Airports like Lubumbashi in the south-east and Kisangani in the north-east have been closed to civilian traffic since July last year, when hostilities broke out.

Somalia is another black hole. Lacking a government since 1991, the region has been closed to large aircraft.

By August, Kenya Airways was reporting full Y2K compliance. Uganda Airlines had little to do because Ansett, from which its single Boeing 737-500 is leased, made sure it was compliant.

Early last month, Ethiopian Airlines had completed compliance of all mission critical systems. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has been checking directly on Y2K compliance, has declined to comment on the status of any African airports or air traffic control. This stems from its promise of confidentiality to the agencies concerned without which IATA would not have won their co-operation to run its checks.

Source: Flight International