An investigation of the challenges Facing Air Space and Air Traffic Management: A focus on airlines in developing countries
Air transport has become a major and fundamental means of carriage around the word. It has been estimated that there are nearly 1400 airlines operating a fleet of about 2500 aircrafts that serve people in nearly 3900 airports globally. The aircrafts operate on a network of many millions of kilometers of routes that are managed by 173 service providers in navigation (Air Transport Action Group 1). Generally, aviation sector has contributed enormously to economic growth, has boosted business activities and provided employment opportunities as well as earning foreign exchange and income to countries. In spite of the pleasing statistics, air transport market in the developing world presents a strong dichotomy. In Southern and Eastern Africa for instance, the market is growing out of government support but in other regions especially central and western Africa, the sector is stagnating, with the vacuum being created by the collapse of Cote d’Ivoire and the demise of other regional airlines for example Air Afrique. This paper aims at examining and providing a report on the challenges facing air space and air traffic management across airlines by focusing mainly on the developing countries in Africa.
AVIATION INDUSTRY AND THE ECONOMY
It has been estimated that the annual GDP contribution of the aviation industry across the world is $2.4 trillion, $606 billion of which is direct from airlines’ operations which is equal to the GDP of Switzerland. By this contribution, airlines surpassed the contributions of pharmaceuticals sector $451 billion of GDP, textiles industry with a GDP of $223 billion and automotive sector whose GDP contribution globally was $555 billion. In 2013 for instance, the aviation industry carried over 3 billion passengers and 50 million tons worth of freight (shipment) by global airlines. Airlines and related industries employ more than 58 million people while 8.7 million of these people are engaged directly in the aviation industry. According to the data obtained from Air transport action group (1), airlines carry about 0.5% of all shipments across the world whose total value is estimated at 35% implying that they carry expensive and valuable products. In the UK, airlines are responsible for the fast growth of the economy for supporting movement of fresh produce from Africa that now supports about 1.5 million livelihoods. As at 2012, the aviation sector of UK was worth £52 billion in GDP and contributed £8.7 billion to the UK treasury in form of taxes.
In the developing world, it was estimated that in 2012, airlines provided nearly eight million jobs of which three million jobs were direct and a GDP value of $365 billion. The developing countries alone control about 26% of total airlines (789,000) and 10% of air operators and civil aerospace with about 3% of the word’s air navigation service providers (Aviation Benefits beyond Borders, 1). In Africa, the aviation sector supports about 6.9 million employment opportunities and $80.5 billion worth of GDP. The catalytic economic impact of airlines in Africa is shown by the illustration below.
Despite the economic benefits, however, it has also been assessed that the aviation industry contributes a lot to climatic degradation with 2013 figures showing that flights produced 705 million tons of carbon dioxide against only 36 billion produced by humans. Overall, the data however shows that airlines and the aviation industry at large are important for the world economy.
AVIATION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
In addition to the economic benefits highlighted, statistics indicate that there is an increase number of routes and size of aircraft are being adapted to the African market and a number of large carriers are viable and expanding to various countries (Heinz and O’Connell 77). However, in spite of this overall connectivity, there is a decline in oil supplies and increase in fuel prices. Countries in less developed regions in the world are generally poor and this becomes very challenging in providing modern infrastructure that enhances adequate air space control and to the extent, air management services. As a result, some countries face the potential of further isolation as the cost of flying increases (Heinrich 98). A dichotomy emerges between the Eastern and Western sides of Africa in terms of connectivity of airspace. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, major hubs that are also closer to the most important airlines in the region have been highly developed. These airlines are an engine of growth and a factor that enhances the growth of the countries’ economy and the ability to invest in air traffic management surveillance. Conversely, West and Central Africa went through very strong declines shortly after the period of 2001 when they experienced smaller, and in some cases negative growth and development from aviation since they were characterized by a less developed hub system.
Similarly, focusing in the sub-Saharan Africa, the uneven growth pattern in airline infrastructure are attributed in part by the decline and collapse of major carriers in the Western portion, especially the Air Afrique, Air Gabon, Ghana Airways, and Nigerian Airways. The drop in their capacity is slowly being reestablished by major carriers in the South and the East networks. Ethiopian Airways and Kenyan Airways for this case are expanding towards the declined routes and east-west traffic that are slowly growing, pausing a challenge to need for increased air control and traffic management. The shock of the collapse of the traditional carriers in the region as well as the expansion of South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenyan Airways, have resulted to the much needed consolidation of the industry in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Nevertheless, Africa’s fleet of aircraft used for advertised scheduled services is being renewed, and is adjusted to the needs and for the types of markets served in the region. In economic terms, all regions wide-bodied aircraft have been replaced with the new and more recent, smaller jets such as the Boeing 737 (Dube 250). These types of aircraft are more efficient for short to medium haul distances. Though accident rates involving older and more often Eastern-built aircrafts is the highest in the developing world, the portion of the seat miles flown in these aircrafts on daily basis and on regularly scheduled services is now very small (Daramola 41).
Another situation about aviation in developing countries is that air travel within is considerably more expensive than intercontinental travels, especially on routes of less than 2,000 nautical miles. This implies that larger markets exercise higher competitiveness among intercontinental routes connecting the world. Domestic pricing among the countries is most likely skewed by subsidized or fixed pricing on some routes, keeping fares artificially low. A recent study by Inter-vistas for IATA indicates that the price elasticity of air transport within developing countries is relatively high compared to other regions in the world (Bianco, Dell’Olmo and Odoni 57). This however does not reflect on the kind of air space infrastructure established to facilitate air traffic control as a justification of increased prices. Despite all outcomes, developing countries have embraced this mode of transportation, which implies that there is need for cooperation and coordination among governments to ensure and guarantee safety of the passengers and all aviation players.
ANALYIS OF AIRSPACE AND AIR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
Air space and air traffic management has been very crucial in ensuring the delivery of services by aviation industries globally. According to Nikoleris et al (11), airspace is the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory. However, there exists a difference between the controlled air space and the uncontrolled air space through which air traffic operates. In the first case, the controlled air space exists where it is deemed necessary that aircraft control has some form of positive executive control over aircraft flying in that air space (Bianco, Dell’Olmo and Odoni 9). On the other hand, the uncontrolled air space refers to an air space in which air traffic control does not exert any executive authority although it may act in an advisory manner. Therefore, operating in controlled airspace implies that all aircrafts must be monitored in terms of departure, duration, flight frequencies, flight traffic and the arrival of the aircrafts at the air ports along with the transit between them.
Air traffic management generally comprises all systems that enable the departure and landing of the aircrafts at a destination (Svensson, Lundberg, and Josefsson 16). It consists of the air traffic control, air traffic safety electronic personnel, and aeronautical meteorology and air navigation systems. According to the Durand et al (81), Air traffic management entails air traffic control, air traffic flow management and aeronautical information services. Air traffic control is the process by which aircraft are safely separated in the sky as the fly and at the air ports where they land and take off again. Air traffic flow management on the other hand points to the activity that must be completed before flights take off.
According to Nikoleris et al (11), however, Aeronautical information services ensure the compilation and distribution of all Aeronautical information necessary to air space users. The information provided consists the safety of the aircrafts, the navigation, technical services and advices when the aircraft experiencing emergency landing, administrative, legal matters and their updates. Essentially, air traffic control services are provided by ground based controllers who direct aircrafts on the ground and through the controlled airspace. They also provide advisory services to aircraft in non-controlled airspace as a way of preventing accidents (such as the collision), organizing and expediting the flow of air traffic as well as providing information and other necessary support to the pilots.
The importance of air traffic management is to ensure that air craft maintains a minimum amount of empty space around it all times. It also enables the safety of the air space to avoid collision through collision avoidance systems which provides warnings to pilots when other aircraft get closer (Vasigh, Fleming, and Tacker 61). To provide these services, air traffic management is an all-inclusive and coordinated system assisted by the air traffic management control towers erected in various airports to regulate the arrivals, departure and surface movements of the aircraft at a specific airport. The airport control towers are always tall windowed structures located on the airport grounds. They work hand with other controllers to ensure the separation and efficient movement of aircraft and vehicles operating at the runways. The use of radars as posits Daramola (46) has also been emphasized as one of the most essentials of air traffic management. The radar displays control information at larger air ports to assist in the control of traffic. They indicate the airborne traffic approaching and departing from the runways through the use of map area, the positions of various aircraft, the speed and altitude. In the process of ensuring the safety, airspace and air traffic management has faced a number of challenges that have affected the departure, landing and the arrival of the air crafts at the ports. These are discussed next.
CHALLENGES IN AIRSPACE AND AIRTRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
The major challenges facing air space and air traffic management include: inadequate control infrastructure, increased number of aircrafts, traffic piles emanating from delays due to changes in weather patterns among other factors, weather considerations, communication systems, Technology and increased number of terrorists activities (Dube 250). Some of these challenges are discussed in this paper.
It has been argued that the fundamental problem facing the airspace and air traffic management and control is about infrastructure (Strohmeier et al. 115). Inadequate infrastructure has been the heart of the problems of the sector which however, has been a major investment by various countries despite their poor economies. Thus the number of airports has increasingly become stable. In addition to the problem of infrastructure, there are runways being established to handle traffic with better and proper scheduling and relatively modest investment in parallel taxiways and some terminal facilities (Pirie 257). The safety challenges of airspace infrastructure leading to aircraft accidents is inevitable even though it has been blamed more on the pilot capability and safety administration than unsafe aircraft, even after air traffic control facilities have been found to be of nonstandard status in many developing countries. In addition, although revenues from airports and air traffic are probably high enough to finance and provide the necessary investments, they are not currently captured by the sector hence inability of aviation officers to directly manage their problems without the intervention of the government.
The land-side infrastructure of airports in Sub- Saharan Africa shows signs of requiring large capital investments in various aviation projects. Evidence suggests that larger airports in general in Africa are financially sustainable, with excess revenues going either to airports in the system that is not self-sufficient. The revenue stream for airports is somewhat different from those found in the West. For instance, Car rental booths and other concessions supply the larger portion of revenues in much of the U.S.’s system, while Africa’s airports rely heavily on passenger charges. Overall the airport charges in Africa do not seem excessive. There are outliers, and the overall level of charges makes these outliers stand out even more. In some cases excessive charges may be levied in order to finance a new airport rather than upgrading existing facilities at a much lower overall investment cost.
Traffic challenges in developing countries are mainly caused by the delays on the number of aircrafts supposed to arrive and depart from the airport. This has been a major problem of concern to various countries as well as the aviation industries. The volume of air traffic demands has posed a risk to air traffic management and the safety of the aircrafts such that every aircraft which lands should exit the entire runway to allow any other aircraft to take the stage and land as well. Nevertheless, when traffic is excess on the schedule than can be handlied with available physical resources; or for other reasons, there are delays that force aircrafts to seemingly arrive, exit or land simultaneously, traffic management becomes hazardous for air experts in developing countries (Vasigh, Fleming and Tacker 35). This causes traffic problems since air traffic management holds the aircrafts over specific locations until they may be safely sequenced to the runway.
In relation to this challenge, the construction of new airports and runways has not kept pace with the increased in air traffic management. This has become challenging on the side of the air traffic control system especially in United States which faces the increased pressure of controlling more than 50,000 flights per day. This has called the establishment of modern software as well as upgrading the existing one especially host computers as well as voice communication systems which are essential in handling air traffic control, tracking and communicating with the aircraft pilots.
Issues with Financial and economic resources
Funding problem among the developing countries has also been a great challenge especially in facilitating air space and air traffic management and control. However, Sub-Saharan Africa’s civil aviation authorities per country basis are generally underfunded. They cannot fulfill their duty as safety regulators in the industry because of lacking capacity, especially in safety inspectors. There is evidence indicating political influence hampering those authorities that were not established as autonomous. In many cases, revenues received by the civil aviation authorities, such as over flight charges, are handed to the state treasury. This causes the authority to rely on state allocations for financing the air space controls and traffic management and expansion of the infrastructure. Current accident rates in Africa reflect this lack of capacity (Pirie 256). Africa has the highest accident rate of eastern-built aircraft. As cited by Oster, Strong, and Zorn (153), the accidents are due to lack of training facilities, traffic control personnel and the unknowing or willful lack of following procedures, and rarely can be chalked up to equipment failure alone. Only a handful of countries are rated as having good oversight while others are rated as having poor oversight.
To introduce better oversight, various programs are being proposed and implemented. Regional organizations that pool resources from individual countries and oversight agencies can train and share qualified technical personnel, such as flight inspectors and other facilities. Because these efforts are in the beginning stages, the effectiveness of these programs for oversight in Africa is not known. Similar programs have been highly effective in other regions, such as Latin America.
Challenges experienced from runways
Many studies have pointed out that Runway capacity in Africa is not a limiting factor for traffic (Oster, Strong, and Zorn, 152; Svensson, Lundberg, and Josefsson 12). Limiting factors for traffic include the ability to enter or leave the runway via taxiways, the amount of space for parking and terminal space for processing passengers. North African countries planned and established their airports for expected increases in passenger traffic, with capacities now well capable of handling current and future numbers of travelers and other services. Sub-Saharan airports show clear constraints even at main airports.
Lack of Private sector participation in airports and monopoly
Characterized with monopoly, lack of private participation in airline operations is pause limitations throughout developing countries. This has prompted a related problem of technology. For instance, the technology involved in providing Air navigation services and air traffic control throughout Sub-Saharan Africa is spotty and concentrated in a few centers (Oster, Strong, and Zorn 159). South Africa has several radar installations and is able to actively monitor traffic. Ethiopia, the third most important airport in the region has no air traffic surveillance technology. In addition, the most important airports feature instrument landing systems and basic traditional navigation aids are absent in many control centers. Away from the centers, navigation aids, as well as communication stations are not in existence. African airspace and airports may not necessarily be in need of radio-based navigation and surveillance infrastructure such as radar technology, but will be in need of investments in the less costly, satellite-based replacements.
To sum up, it can be concluded that air traffic management and air space control plays a major role in the air transport system. Since air transport for many years has developed as an alternative means of transport and facilitated in the transportation of highly perishable goods across the continents, its value to the economy is known to be quite positive. From the report, airlines have facilitated the development of business activities and as a result, contributed towards multinational relations and international cooperation. It is therefore prudent to point out that air transport has played a major role towards the movement of people, goods and most importantly, in ensuring the development of economy among various countries in the world, it has provided employment opportunities and facilitated GDP growth. Aviation has also facilitated space explorations, weather forecasting, responding to emergencies such as wild fires (forest fires) and surveillance as a way of promoting security and protection. In order to provide these enormous contributions, airlines have been dependent on airspace and air traffic management. For efficiency in this management, there is need for cooperation to improve airline services to benefit from economies of scale of the aviation’s sector.
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