Aviation authority upgrade to transform airspace management

Air traffic management in Guyana is expected to be significantly enhanced with the implementation of a new communication, navigation and surveillance system set to cost up to US$3M.

Through the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Project, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has projected increased safety for aircraft operators and reduced fuel consumption for both domestic and international users of Guyana’s airspace, while making the country more attractive to international airlines as it endeavours to become compliant with international standards.

The GCAA yesterday launched the project at the Grand Coastal Inn at Le Ressouvenir, in the presence of representatives of the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana, Ogle International Airport and the Guyana Defence Force as well as Roxanne Reece, a director from Fly Jamaica.

Director General, GCAA, Zulfikar Mohammed
Director General, GCAA, Zulfikar Mohammed

During a detailed presentation on the project, it was emphasised that Guyana could significantly benefit from services of international airlines which would have previously been skeptical about utilising Guyana’s airspace because of the lack of modern technology. It was explained that the mere use of the airspace is a major revenue generator for the aviation authority, which is responsible for the monitoring of communications and control of all flights operating in or over Guyana’s airspace.

Project Coordinator Rick Samaroo, who chaired the proceedings at the launch, noted that air traffic management is premised on the ability to accurately and timely determine the position of all aircraft at all times so as to efficiently map routes, save time, fuel and avoid collisions. He explained that the need was triggered by the global demand to upgrade the communications, navigation and surveillance systems in the country and is being done across the region. He made specific mention of Trinidad, Brazil and Venezuela.

Also speaking at the launch, Zulfikar Mohammed, the Director General of the GCAA, also underscored the benefits of the project to both local and international aircraft operators and specifically in terms of the capacity and capability of the GCAA to serve them.

The use and benefits of the project that he listed are: better procedural control, real time information on aircraft movement, reduction of cost factor delays and operation costs, and the use of direct routes by international aircraft, which will save fuel. He stated that many economic returns will be seen as international aircraft utilise Guyana’s airways because of its strategic location on the upper right shoulder of South America, which makes it a perfect hub for transportation.

Chaitrani Heeralall, Director of Navigation Services
Chaitrani Heeralall, Director of Navigation Services

Mohammed pointed out the significant increase in air traffic over the past decade, saying that the numbers have doubled and therefore the upgrade is warranted.

Transport Minister Robeson Benn, in his remarks at the launch, said that his ministry and by extension the government has worked assiduously to keep up with international standards and this

automatic system represents a great leap in how Guyana’s airspace and traffic is managed overall. He added that it will allow for the seamless interface with neighbours and better safety and security. He said that economic benefits will be derived as fuel burned will be reduced and time will be saved.

 A new technology

Explaining how the system works was Chaitrani Heeralall, Director of Navigation Services, who described the ADS-B project and gave some background to its implementation. She said that prior to 2002, Guyana had a high level of uncontrolled airspace, with limited routes available for local and international users. This decreased over the subsequent years through the concerted efforts of the GCAA, which in 2005 implemented vertical separation, allowing for an increase in routes.

She showed that in 2006, there were 30,928 direct aircraft movements (flights), while the number was 70,903 in 2013. For the same period, 6,464 overflights increased to 18,425, while domestic flights at Ogle International Airport increased from approximately 15,000 to 30,000.

Highlighting how the system currently works, Heeralall said that Timehri controllers, who are responsible for both Cheddi Jagan International Airport and Ogle International Airport, would have to radio the pilot and ask them to report their position at 15-minute intervals for those in the lower airspace and at 10-minute intervals for those in the upper airspace. This posed a challenge in optimising airspace, she explained, because by the time the pilot would have reported their location they would have since moved. This, coupled with the increase in air traffic and limited ground infrastructure, makes it difficult to optimise the airspace capacity.

Describing the ADS-B as a new technology that redefines the paradigm of communications, navigations and surveillance in air traffic management today, Heeralall explained that it allows pilots and air traffic controllers to see and control aircraft with more precision and over a far larger percentage of the earth’s surface than has ever been possible before. According to her, it is a proven and cost effective replacement to conventional radar.

Heeralall, while explaining the components denoted by the “ADS-B” acronym, pointed out that “Automatic” reflects that it is always on and requires no intervention; “Dependent,” signifies it dependence on Global Navigation Satellite System or Global Positioning System signals or data; Surveillance indicates that it provides accurate radar-like surveillance services; and Broadcast represents the fact that it continuously broadcasts aircraft position and other data to other aircraft or a ground station that is equipped to receive ADS-B.

Explaining how it works, she said that signals are continuously transmitted in a cycle from the aircraft to antennas, which forward the signal to the ground station, which then forwards the signal to the Air Traffic Management System, and in turn to a screen displayed for the controllers to see. This information is used to optimise routes for effective airspace management. Information can also be transmitted to the aircraft, e.g., that of the location of another aircraft or other aircraft.

It was explained that any aircraft manufactured post-2005 would be equipped with the requirement but older aircraft would have to upgrade their equipment at an estimated cost of US$8,000 to do so. This raised concern from Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana President and Aircraft Owners Association Communications Consultant Kit Nascimento, who questioned when domestic aircraft operators could expect to recover the investment. Heeralall said that due to inefficient routes, aircraft constantly suffer delayed landings, which cost additional fuel—a cost she pegged at $37,000 for every 10 minutes. She explained that those delays could be significantly reduced and thus save the aircraft operators on unnecessarily burnt fuel. This point she used to underscore the need for collaboration with the stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition into the new system and compliance from all operators.

At the current stage, the GCAA has upgraded its Aircraft Traffic Management Software, acquired and installed one antenna, a site monitor, Archiver and Recharge Card Management System at Timehri, acquired and distributed one display unit, established a task force and trained Air Navigation Service Staff. The project is expected to be fully implemented by 2019.

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