36TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Taipei, Taiwan, 17-21 March 1997
WP No. 92A
This work paper was given to SC l at last years IFATCA conference in Tunis as a result of some concern expressed by IFALPA. This organisation had declared the African continent critically deficient in the provision of air traffic services with the exception of three countries.
Although the substance of this paper does not address the specific heading “Monitor TIBA”, it does highlight the reasons which put the item on the work study list of SC 1.
TIBA has become a permanent feature on continental Africa. Operators and crews of aircraft cross the continent flying through areas where TIBA is being used and there are no valid published procedures for that airspace. Further, there exists no review of these decisions and procedures. It is becoming standard practice that when an aircraft attempts to establish radio communication and there is no response the crew simply change back to 126,9 and continue broadcasting. The reasons as highlighted in the paper have indicated that although IFATCA has policy regarding TIBA, this policy appears to be of a weak nature and therefore it is the intention of the committee to delete certain policy and reinforce the remaining policy.
This paper is based on an ALPA-SA (Airline Pilots Association of South Africa) document which was presented at Aviation Africa. This document addresses most of the problems and areas of concern experienced by the operators over the African continent and is therefore included in the discussion.
In 1969 a rocket (Apollo 11) was launched from Cape Kennedy. It took four days to reach the moon where a predetermined orbit was entered. A landing module (code named the Eagle) was released and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The landing module then took off rejoined the command module, returned to earth and successfully splashed down into the sea. All the while everybody on earth with access to a television or radio listened to the radio transmissions between Apollo 11 and NASA.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THAT WAS 27 YEARS AGO!!
Last night over Africa the crews of more than 30 aircraft were unable to make satisfactory radio contact with Air Traffic Control in order to ensure the most basic of mandatory separation between these aircraft Statistics indicate that at least 2 incidents. which were sufficiently dangerous to follow up. occurred last night. Operators are paying vast sums of money for overflying rights and air navigation services. More than this there is a major safety hazard.
It is important to investigate how this problem has developed and why it has become so critical over the last few years. Firstly traffic growth over Africa has increased by 120% over the last 5 years and there is no indication that this growth will abate over the next decade. On the contrary, the indications are that it will increase.
Growth in Air traffic to South Africa has been phenomenal over the past four years. The overseas passenger arrival figures for 1995 reflect an increase of 52.1% when compared to the 1994 figure. Traffic to South Africa from Australasia. Europe the Middle East and Asia grew by more than 40%. Traffic between South Africa and other African states grew by an average of 24%. Most of the people reflected in these figures traversed the airspace over the continent of Africa.
There is little or no radar or VHF coverage over Africa North of Zimbabwe. There has been a marked improvement in some areas but the majority of the continent is still dangerously lacking in anything approaching the definition of reasonable in terms of its aviation aids. Due to the fact that there is no radar coverage, air traffic control enforces a mandatory 20 minutes separation between aircraft flying at the same flight level. W hat this means is that an aircraft might therefore not get it’s optimum flight level and consequently burn a lot more fuel than planned with a resultant increase in cost. Even those aircraft which do obtain an optimum flight level generally carry more fuel in case they are not able to climb and this again results in a greater fuel burn. These are the financial implications of the problem, but a far more important aspect is that of Flight Safety.
This presentation is given from a Southern African point of view, as this is where we are based and from where all our international flights originate. Crews, by accepting flights into substandard ATC regions put there aircraft at risk and they also put themselves into some measure of legal jeopardy. Flying into a known dangerous area or airspace may have the result that certain Conventions and Agreements would not apply should an incident or accident occur. Thus the crew may lose the protection provided in for example the Warsaw Convention which sets a maximum compensation that may be claimed as the result of an accident. This also leaves the crew in a situation where civil and criminal charges may be brought against them. The operator might similarly be at risk on the same basis.
There seems to be no technical reason why this problem should not be eliminated. Unfortunately, until effective air traffic control is established the only alternative would seem to be the cessation of flights into and over defective areas. The problem is that operators would, not naturally, be very reluctant to suspend flights because of the financial implications. When a recent call was made to operators to suspend all flights into a critically deficient state in Africa, not one operator suspended any flights.
The problem over Africa can be broken up into three main sections. Firstly air traffic control facilities and training, secondly airfield and en-route facilities and thirdly, flight deck crew awareness (126.9 the IATA In-Flight Broadcast Procedure).
ATC facilities and training
The lack of radar coverage over Africa has been mentioned already. Radar is a very expensive tool and perhaps this might be the explanation for its absence in this region. VHF radio communication equipment is, however, not nearly as expensive and is far more vital to the safety of aircraft, aircrew and passengers. North of Zambia there is very little VHF coverage which means that crews have to attempt to get all clearances on HF radio. This is time consuming, fatigue inducing and can divert the crew’s attention from more important tasks at hand. Often crews are unable to obtain clearance to a new flight level because of substandard communication equipment and the idiosyncrasies of the ionosphere. HF radio should only be used for aircraft to company communication, weather broadcasting and long range oceanic communication. HF radio is, however the primary means of communication in Africa and its use has been a contributing factor in numerous near miss accidents and incidents over the past few years. These events are increasing commensurate with the increase in air traffic.
Some countries have made a positive effort to cover there FIR’s with VHF communication and they are to be complimented for there efforts. However, they are often still shackled and restricted by the complete lack of telecommunication facilities, not necessarily between countries and FIR’s but also between control centers in the same FIR. It is all very well having VHF coverage in an isolated FIR but no use if he or she simply does not have a telephone he can pick up in order to communicate and co-ordinate the handover with the next controller up the line.
A further problem with ATC is personnel training and morale. Due to a lack of funds being allocated to training, controllers often are not trained to the standard required in a modern world, where there is a high workload due to the presence of a number of fast sophisticated aircraft in a particular airspace at the same time. Even if the controllers were trained to a higher standard it would be very difficult to maintain a high morale since they often work under extremely difficult conditions with equipment that is badly maintained. obsolete and simply not up to the required standard. Another major problem with personnel morale is the fact that their salaries are generally low. If salaries were sufficiently attractive the job could attract and keep the elite in its ranks.
The key to safe airspace is well trained, well remunerated, contented staff operating equipment that is reliable, well maintained and modern enough to safely complete the job at hand.
Airfield and en-route facilities
Modern aircraft fly at extremely high speeds, which results in a high work load in the cockpit. It is therefore most important that the job of the flight deck crew is not made more difficult by inadequate facilities.
Numerous en route facilities in Africa have been inoperative for many years and Jeppeson charts show a plethora of small A symbols next to many en route facilities. This small A symbol is the method used by Jeppeson to denote that a facility has been reported unserviceable for a long time. Many en route facilities are unserviceable and not reported as such by the State, and therefore not so denoted by Jeppeson.
In terms of airfield facilities , the situation is even worse; one need only to study ICAO appendix 4.2.1 as well as the IFALPA Annex 19, in order to assess the inadequate state of many of the major airports in Africa.
One must remember that during the take off, the approach and the landing phases. an aircraft is in its most vulnerable configuration i.e. at low speed, close to the ground and with high thrust settings. Another point to be considered is that thunder storm activity in Africa makes much route flying, as well as take-offs and landings, extremely hazardous. When the crew of an aircraft are fighting bad weather in the landing or take off configuration i.e. close to the ground and close to the stall speed, malfunctioning of completely deficient ground equipment makes these critical manoeuvres considerably more hazardous.
Examples of areas with deficient equipment are too numerous to mention. However, the deficiencies themselves are important to note in order to understand the extreme difficulties encountered by flight deck crew members in the African scenario. Many airports do not even have perimeter fencing and this often results in the local population wandering around airport environs. and even across runways, at will. This also has a major impact on the security of the aircraft on the ground, especially in areas involved in civil and religious wars.
In addition to the lack of perimeter fencing, ATC training is inadequate, Non Directional Beacons (NDB’s), VOR stations and ILS facilities often do not work. A major problem is that the Morse code used by the crew to identify a particular navigation aid’s phonetic identity in order to confirm that they are commencing an approach over the correct beacon, often cannot be heard. This leads to another serious problem. Most airports were last surveyed a very long time ago and we, as flight deck crew, cannot be assured that the obstacle clearance heights used in the determination of approach minima are still correct. One of our members flew an approach on an ILS which, when the aircraft broke cloud, had it approximately 500 meter’s right of centre line (close to high ground), even though the indicators in the cockpit showed the aircraft to be on centre line. On informing the controller, he stated that the ILS had been adjusted some 9 months ago but had yet to be calibrated, he was in fact unaware that calibration was a legal necessity. This incident could have resulted in a major accident had the cloud been 200 foot lower.
A simple thing such as a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) which informs crew of a problem at a particular airfield before they commence the flight is almost non existent in many parts of Africa. These NOTAMS are generally a lifeline and allow both operator and flight deck crew to effectively plan a flight with all the possible contingencies taken into account. They are essential to flight safety. and if available and reliable, can save operators major costs by eliminating any en route surprises.
Operators might think that. because they pay over flight fees to a particular country. its Aviation Authority will ensure that all the above facilities are operational. It is however important to remember that all states are sovereign states and they do not necessarily have to utilise these funds for improvement or maintenance of the ATC infrastructure.
Flight deck crew awareness: IATA in-flight broadcast procedure (126.9)
As a consequence of the substandard conditions of Africa’s aviation infrastructure, aircrew have assumed responsibility for control through the use of IATA In-Flight Broadcast Procedure. This is an aircrew self help system.
Operators and aircrew are taking it upon themselves to manage critical parameters of their flights by using this frequency as a substitute for facilities which are sadly lacking in Africa. To persons inexperienced in the practicalities of aviation this self-help scheme may appear to be an adequate solution to the problem, experienced airline crews know, however, that it is not a satisfactory solution and that the situation should not be allowed to continue.
It is laudable that crew members have such loyalty to their companies, and to the travelling public, that they are prepared to go beyond the call of duty. by accepting such responsibility in order to ensure the safety of the flight. The legal position is this: when operating in a region with known deficiencies they lay themselves open to major legal risk
The introduction by pilots of Broadcasts was temporary despite the addressed frequency deficiency. ICAO Annex 11, Attachment C. states that the in flight broadcast procedure was to permit reports and relevant supplementary information for the information of other aircraft in the vicinity.” It goes on to say that TIBA (Traffic Information Between Aircraft) should be introduced only when necessary and as a temporary measure.” The use of TIBA has regrettably become a permanent measure and, with the massive increase in air traffic over the region, real problems have not been addressed and the continued use of TIBA has become an accepted practice.
The 126.9 frequency is over saturated and the deficiencies in Africa have now become critical. Is it necessary for a mid air collision to occur before the problems are addressed?
It is very important that we emphasise here that airlines operating within Africa should be taking urgent steps to ensure that a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is fitted to all aircraft.
We have dealt fairly harshly and assertively with the problems in Africa in this presentation. We believe that it is very necessary to do so as continued apathy, economic mismanagement and acceptance of the status quo will result in these problems escalating, and eventually in a major hull loss. We, the Air Line Pilots’ Association of South Africa, believe we have a responsibility to lobby for improvements in the facilities in the region to prevent such an occurrence.
What can be done to alleviate the present problem?
Firstly, is it not time that operators, manufacturers and interested parties make a concerted effort to rectify the problems in Africa? Many of the affected countries in Africa have been ravaged by civil war, have immense poverty to deal with and bureaucracies which are stifling and often almost impossible to communicate with.
Perhaps a central authority should be created which would assume technical and financial authority and responsibility for the aviation infrastructure of the countries in Africa. This body could guarantee that all funds intended for improving and maintaining aviation facilities will be directed to this cause.
IFALPA (International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations) has recently designated a large portion of the African continent as being critically deficient and will be paying specific attention to the problem at a Regional Meeting in Cairo in September of this year to which the major role players involved will be invited. The purpose of the meeting will be to seek urgent solutions to the deficiencies in Africa.
Separation reduction statistics
The following statistics were obtained from one operator flying across the African continent and I deemed it necessary to include them in this report. The period covered is from 1 September 1994 to 21 August 1995:
- Near collisions*: 52;
- Air Traffic Control**: 30.
(*Five of the above near collisions occurred outside of African airspace.)
(**This figure denotes the number of incidents while speaking to ATC.)
Once again it is stressed that these are figures received from one operator based on the continent.
As can be seen from the above , IFALPA’s viewpoint regarding the African continent may have some merit. The views expressed above are not too dramatic as this picture that is created above actually does exist.
At this time there are mechanisms already in place in an attempt to rectify the situation in some areas. Certain states have commenced with investigations into the application of satellite technology and have recruited the help of neighbouring states in their efforts. It appears as if many political barriers are being overcome and the various CAA’s are finally starting to work together.
It is recommended that:
The following be provisional policy:
Delete the paragraphs 2 and 3 of existing IFATCA policy on TIBA.
TIBA procedures should only be introduced where there are significant technical and/or practical deficiencies in the ATC infrastructure, subject to the Authorities providing adequate procedures and for a limited duration only, not exceeding 6 months.
Last Update: September 28, 2020