CANSO promoting 'can-do' on safety
Collaboration between Africa's air traffic control authorities is growing but more needs to be done to encourage greater efficiency and quality of service, the 4th CANSO Africa conference heard. Alan Dron reports.
Ensuring safe and efficient airspace – separating regulation from service provision was the theme of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) conference, held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
CANSO is the global body that represents air navigation service providers (ANSPs), organisations that supply ANSPs with goods or services, plus aircraft operators and academic bodies with an interest in air navigation issues.
Director general, Jeff Poole, opened the conference by mentioning Africa’s rapidly growing aviation sector, which, he said, had the ability to deliver real benefits in terms of connectivity, as well as social and economic development.
However, he noted that the air traffic management (ATM) sector on the continent still faced several challenges, including the need to improve staff training and development, separating regulation from service provision, and persuading African countries to invest in their ATM infrastructure.
On the plus side, Poole was able to report that CANSO members had signed the Africa ATM safety peer review initiative, which addresses safety issues. This, he said, was an example of partnership in action, with CANSO working with other ANSPs and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN body charged with overseeing civil aviation, to put in place effective safety management systems.
Under the initiative, ANSPs will form teams to conduct peer reviews of each-other’s safety management systems, with CANSO having a coordination role and providing expert guidance.
An appeal for CANSO’s stronger, more able, members to help some of their African colleagues came from Ghana’s transport minister, Fifi Kwetey.
“In pursuit of CANSO’s Vision 2020 towards a seamless air navigation services or a single sky, there’s an urgent need for ANSPs to adopt the approach of the airline industry by fostering strategic alliances, value creation and cooperation,” he said.
“I therefore urge CANSO and its more endowed members to help improve the operational efficiency of the weaker members. The global vision of seamless ATM has no place for any weak link. No country can be left behind, Africa cannot be left behind!”
Kwetey also called on the conference to identify measures that would improve the provision of oversight for the continent’s ANSPs.
“The ICAO universal safety oversight audit programme results for many African states revealed an extremely poor level of compliance in the area of air navigation services oversight. This is, indeed, very disturbing, as the presence of a strong and effective industry regulator will ensure safe and efficient ATM operations in our respective states and flight information regions.
“This forum should, therefore, identify the contributory factors and propose an action plan to address this deficiency. ICAO, CANSO, ANSPs and regulators have a collective responsibility to improve the level of effective implementation in the ANS audit area.”
CANSO has, for some time, had an objective of separating the provision of air navigation services from the regulatory function. One of the main aims of this separation is to create greater financial and operational autonomy for the ANSP. This encourages a business-like approach to service delivery and improved quality of service.
Separating the provision of services from the regulatory process is also consistent with the principles of good corporate governance, as the regulatory aspect is seen as both independent and transparent.
Since the 1980s, many countries around the world have separated their air navigation services from their regulatory bodies. The reasons are varied: some countries have gone down the path of privatising government departments, others through making changes in other transport-related departments within their government.
Several speakers agreed that separation of service provision from regulation leads to efficiencies, better cost-effectiveness and less bureaucracy, as well as better access to financial resources.
However, the speakers – drawn from a mix of ANSPs, CANSO and ICAO – cautioned that there was no “one size fits all” solution. Every country had to consider the individual circumstances that operated in their territory. They also suggested that separating functions was more important than separating the actual organisations.
Among the challenges involved in separating the functions were how to fund the two separate organisations; how to share assets and liabilities; lack of trust between the two bodies; and managing staff through the transition to the new system.
Another topic under discussion was the problem of airspace sovereignty.
This has become an issue in several regions around the world, notably in Europe and the Middle East, where states have been reluctant to move to larger, more efficient airspace blocks covering several countries. States have expressed fears that allowing air traffic controllers in neighbouring nations to control aircraft in their own airspace means giving up sovereignty.
This has often been used as a reason for not harmonising airspace over large areas.
Seamless, harmonised airspace is a key goal of the ATM industry, as it is often more efficient to have control of airspace based on the operational requirements of users, rather than on national borders.
ATM specialists have argued that countries can delegate service provision to other parties, or several countries can join together to control regional airspace, without any loss of sovereignty. Similarly, CANSO’s position is that sovereignty is not incompatible with the delivery of cross-border ATM services.
Sovereignty problems can be exacerbated when airspace includes areas blocked off for military use. The answer, several speakers said, was close collaboration between military and civil air authorities.
As civil aviation grows, it requires more capacity and a more flexible use of national airspace. The collaboration necessary to allow civil and military controllers to work together can be hampered by factors such as volatile security situations, conflicts or even commercial interests.
However, noted Colonel Osman Saafan, director, safety & security and military affairs at Germany’s DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung (German flight safety) organisation, it was possible to create such cooperation, even in the busiest airspace, if organisations were prepared to work together.
He pointed to the Functional Airspace Block Central Europe (FABEC), which involved collaboration between seven civilian and three military ANSPs in an area covering most of western Europe, some of the continent’s busiest airspace, which handles around 60% of the total air traffic there.