Smoother air traffic flow in 2010

 The new air traffic flow management system will make life much easier for South Africa’s air traffic controllers
The new air traffic flow management
system will make life much easier for
South Africa’s air traffic controllers.
(Image: Zoopy)

South Africa’s skies will be even more expertly controlled during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, thanks to a new air traffic flow management system, which will be implemented soon.

Transport minister Sbu Ndebele recently visited the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) unit at OR Tambo International airport, just east of Johannesburg, and pronounced himself satisfied that the system was on track for its scheduled April switch-on.

The visit was part of the minister’s tour of various transport-related projects that will ensure an unforgettable trip for football visitors to the country next year, and will improve the lives of South African residents in years to come.

Ndebele also inspected the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme. This project, which covers the upgrade of freeways in the Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metropolitan areas, is expected to inject about US$3.8-billion (R29-billion) into the national economy and will result in 30 000 jobs.

Just a few days before, the minister attended the opening of the new terminal at Bloemfontein’s airport. The terminal is part of a $6.1-million (R46-million) terminal reconfiguration project that also includes a hotel, realignment of roads, and the upgrading of aprons. It is expected to be complete in January 2010.

Controlling the skies

South Africa’s air traffic control system is maintained and controlled by the state-owned ATNS company, which was established in 1993 as a provider of air control and other services.

ATNS recently announced the implementation of the new air traffic flow management tool for its central airspace management unit, which is based at OR Tambo airport. This system has been several years in the planning.

Air traffic flow management is not to be confused with air traffic control, which focuses on safe air navigation. Rather, the flow management system manages the smooth passage of air traffic in and out of the airport by controlling arrival and departure slots. The efficient use of available airport capacity ensures that capacity is not exceeded, minimising delays and more.

It will take over many functions currently performed by the air traffic controller, thereby relieving some pressure in a notoriously stressful job. And, according to ATNS, it will also contribute to a greener environment by ensuring minimal fuel burn for most flights, resulting in reduced emission of greenhouse gas.

The system is also able to predict traffic patterns and respond to them before they arise, such as the diversion of air traffic in bad weather.

The entire project involved the acquisition, installation, configuration, and commissioning of the system, as well as training on both software and hardware. In total, about $7.1-million (R54-million) has been spent.

The system is undergoing extensive testing to ensure that it complies with international safety standards. Once it is up and running it will be tested in-house for a period, after which the South African Civil Aviation Authority will review the system for safety.

“During the World Cup, all our systems must be ready – rail, road and maritime. However, air transportation remains a critical point of entry for a global tournament of this kind,” said Ndebele during his inspection tour.

ATNS expects the system to be fully operational towards the end of April 2010, just in time for the World Cup kick-off on 11 June.

Safety first

ATNS currently controls about 10% of the world’s airspace. The company is based in Isando, near OR Tambo International, but operates at 21 airports of all sizes around the country. ATNS’s area of operation extends across a span of 90 degrees longitude, with South Africa roughly in the middle, and 40 degrees latitude south from the country’s northernmost border, all the way down to the northern tip of the South Pole.

The organisation also runs a training academy which covers a host of related disciplines from air traffic control to technical support. This is in line with its vision of ensuring air traffic safety across Africa. The school has trained people from all over the continent, some from as far north as Sudan.