In order to cope with the growing volumes of air traffic worldwide and improve air traffic navigation safety, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has mandated the progressive replacement of existing ground-based air navigation aids by a more cost effective satellite-based air navigation technology known as Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM). This has necessitated Member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to come together and agreed to set up a regulatory agency for the aviation industry, inching closer to forming a seamless airspace.

With this new system, Air Traffic Services from a single control center can cover large areas, thereby facilitating rationalization of investments in infrastructure and equipment. With these conditions, a cooperative regional framework for the establishment of a unified upper airspace and subsequent deployment of a regional CNS/ATM is considered an advantageous approach for the COMESA member countries. Eastern and Southern Africa Aviation Agency, which has to be approved by the Comesa Secretariat, will co-ordinate the implementation within the 19 member countries.

Air Traffic Services (ATS) in COMESA member countries are still dependent on ground-based communication and surveillance systems such as very high frequency omni-directional radio (VOR), instrument landing systems (ILS), non-directional beacons, and surveillance radars.  These systems have been used worldwide for more than 50 years; they are increasingly unable to cope with the growing volume of air traffic and are being replaced by a more effective satellite-based air navigation technology.

The single airspace is aimed at eliminating restrictions and providing guiding principles that will promote and ease movement of persons, goods and cargo by air. The new regime will lead to cheaper flights and more budget airlines according to Shadrack Wesechere, acting director of air navigation services at Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).The Project Implementation Unit (PIU) made up of technical experts based in Kigali was established in 2011 following the signing of an agreement between the secretariat and Rwanda.

The new system also has environmental dividends, the benefits of CNS/ATM will be realized through improved airport capacity, optimized route networks and airspace management, collaborative flight planning and rerouting. There will also be wind-optimized direct routes which collectively will offer reduced fuel consumption and lower levels of pollutants. The results of an initial study show that there will be a 5% reduction in CO2 emissions due to the introduction of planned CNS/ATM systems within Europe and the United States. More reduction in emissions will be realized once this technology is adopted by other regions like COMESA.


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