As the world looks towards capacity expansion in aviation, Africa needs to keep an eye on its air navigation infrastructure and ensure that they are improved so that they add to the positive passenger experience. A positive airport experience will help sustain the contribution of aviation to the GDP of African states.
Pilots do not singly carry out the task of safely navigating an aircraft from a departure airport, across a large expanse of land or ocean to the final destination. Global Air Traffic Management (ATM) functions through an international network of ground as well as satellite based navigation aids, regulations that dictate the rules of the sky and human expertise too is important in this regard.
There are thousands of aircraft in the skies all over the world. To ensure safe separation and movement of air traffic efficiently around the world, Air Traffic Management is very important.
Air navigation service providers (ANSP) are important people in the safe and efficient operation of air traffic. They manage and control the movement of aircraft within a given airspace. They provide such services as air traffic control (ATC), communication, navigation and surveillance services.
Primarily, air navigation service providers ensure the safety of aircraft and passengers by maintaining separation between aircraft, giving clearances and instructions to pilots, and also monitoring and managing the flow of air traffic. They carry out this function by combining radar, radio communication and advanced technologies to track and guide aircraft.
Recently an African ANSP reduced flight time on domestic flights from about eighty minutes to less than an hour by creating new routes. When an ANSP does so, it contributes to the overall efficiency of air travel by optimising routes, minimising delays, and reducing the consumption of fuel. They are able to carry out this role by collaborating with airlines, airports and other stakeholders with the aim of managing and coordinating air traffic in a region. With respect to the flow of air traffic across international boundaries, they collaborate with neighbouring ANSPs to ensure seamless flow.
These roles played by ANSPs in air traffic management influence the airport experience. Where they are efficient in air traffic control and management, delays are reduced and the overall punctuality of flights is enhanced. For the passenger, this will translate into a reduction in times spent waiting and reduced hiccups in the passenger journey.
When ANSPs work collaboratively with airports runway operations are optimised, there is safe and efficient management of movements of aircraft on ground, as well as safe and expeditious departures and arrivals. Pilots are fed with critical information such as weather updates, runway conditions and any other data which is relevant and will aid safe and efficient operations at the airport. Over and above the ability of a controller to communicate with aircraft, to safely control traffic, they must have clear expectations about the routing of an aircraft.
Some other roles of ANSPs is that they work with airport operators to develop and implement procedures for noise abatement and environmental protection. The goal is to mitigate the impact of aircraft noise on local communities and minimise the environmental footprint of aviation activities.
The recovery of air transport has continued in its upward trend post Covid-19. Air traffic in Africa has followed the same upward trend. However, Air Traffic Management (ATM) in Africa has been met with the challenges of staffing, fragmentation of the airspace with many equipment types and manufacturers, bureaucratic delays in carrying out airfield improvements as well as inadequate investments in infrastructure.
In spite of these challenges, there has been an upward improvement in safety records in Africa. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), reported that the safety performance of the commercial airline industry in Africa has been improving in recent years. In 2021, IATA reported that members and airlines on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry (which includes all IATA members) experienced zero fatal accidents.
Experts have advised that decisions on Air Traffic Management (ATM) must be made collaboratively with the airlines and other users so that there is good return on investment. They also advised that infrastructure deficiencies in the various air traffic systems of states are closed cost-effectively, efficiently and in a mutually beneficial manner.
A focus on improving on the functions of ANSPs leads to safe and efficient management of air traffic. The airport experience is improved by reducing delays, enhancing safety, optimising operations and mitigating the environmental impact of aviation. These are issues that should be high up in the minds of aviation industry stakeholders across Africa particularly, and globally, too.