David Learmount/London

A mid-air collision in African airspace was predictable, says the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA), following the simultaneous disappearance of German and US military transport aircraft off Namibia on 13 September. IFALPA warned in 1996 that African air traffic control (ATC) suffers from inadequacies (Flight International, 27 November-3 December 1996).

A collision has been accepted by Namibia's search-and-rescue (SAR) services as the only reasonable explanation from the emerging evidence. Germany confirms that the floating wreckage-fields for the two aircraft overlap.

The wreckage is about 100km (55nm) off northern Namibia. A week after the event, only one body had been recovered from the sea. The SAR centre gives the wreckage position as 18degrees30`S/11degrees03`E, close to the waypoint at 18¹S/10¹E for which the US Air Force Lockheed C-141 Starlifter was heading, having taken off from Windhoek, Namibia, bound for the Ascension Islands with a crew of nine.

The German air force Tupolev Tu-154, carrying 24 people, might have overflown the same reporting point inbound to Windhoek, given its departure point in Niamey, Niger, the Windhoek air traffic control centre (ATCC) says. Height separation could not be ensured, however, because no ATC contact had been established. Windhoek confirms that it had not received the flight plan which the air force says was filed in Cologne the day before departure.

The last communication from the C-141 was on high-frequency radio to Windhoek ATCC, reporting that the aircraft had levelled at 35,000ft (10,700m). According to Windhoek SAR, it has confirmation from the Luanda, Angola, and Brazzaville, Congo, ATCCs that communications with the Tu-154 had not been established during its route south from Niamey. The last report, says Windhoek, was to the Accra, Ghana, ATCC, stating its height as 35,000ft.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), describes ATC in all but seven African nations as "critically deficient", but says that Namibia complies with international standards. Flight plans for aircraft arriving "from the north", however, are never received, Windhoek says, adding that, although the Tu-154 had entered the Windhoek flight information region, the crew had not established contact.

A primary African ATC shortcoming highlighted by ICAO is a lack of a working aeronautical fixed-telecommunications network for transmitting flight plans between ATCCs.

Source: Flight International