Ing. Frank Apeagyei, Director, Africa Region, International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA) in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal, stresses that licensing and continuous training of Air Traffic Safety Electronic Personnel as well as investment in modern air traffic infrastructure are essential for improving aviation safety.
Q: As IFATSEA Director for the Africa Region for the second term, what are the major highlights of your work and what would you describe as your major milestones in office so far?
A: As IFATSEA Director for the Africa region, I have, together with Air Traffic Safety Electronic Personnel (ATSEPs) in the region been able to establish cordiality among ourselves as professionals. The office has been a source of technical information to members and we have been vocal on ATSEPs contribution to civil aviation safety at different fora and other platforms.
My major milestones have been activation of Region Africa meeting. Hitherto, in many years preceding my tenure, there was no such activity in the region where ATSEPs meet on annual basis to deliberate on technical issues affecting our work and share experiences that in many ways have been useful in resolving a number of the challenges that colleague ATSEPs face in the discharge or performance of their duties. We started this in 2015 and we have been able to sustain such event till now. The beauty of it is that, the event rotates among affiliate countries under full sponsorship by the host affiliate.
Another milestone is the creation of ATSEP licensing template for the region. For us in Africa, we believe that the aviation safety chain is incomplete without the licensing of ATSEPs and that is why I have set up a licensing template committee to fine-tune the document so that the real intent for its creation would be achieved.
Again, Africa for the past four years has hosted the IFATSEA Annual General Assembly thrice in different countries. In 2016, The ATSEPs in Nigeria hosted the global event. Then in 2018, we had Tunisia ATSEPs and now Ghana is hosting it. This is a great achievement especially getting this global event hosted in Africa.
Q: Licensing of ATSEPs in Africa is a topical issue. What is your view on this?
A: This is very topical. We cannot put anything above safety. ATSEP licensing is key to maintaining an enviable safety record not only in Africa but in the whole of the civil aviation community. If you consider the causative factors that led to the uberligen mid-air collision in July 1, 2001 and other safety related events, you will understand why it is important to license the men and women performing maintenance, monitoring and coordination of air traffic technical systems. Without the proper monitoring and maintenance of these systems, the travelling public will lose trust in air transportation because its safety cannot be guaranteed.
Africa has one of the best safety records in air transport and it’s important that we continue to work hard to maintain this record. We cannot wait till a catastrophe hits the continent before we realize the need to license ATSEPs, the engineers behind the air traffic controller screen ensuring the availability of traffic information to aircraft, pilots and ground inter air traffic control centers.
Q: New technologies continue to re-define how things are done in almost every sector of the aviation industry including air traffic management. Do you think ANSPs and CAAs in Africa are coming up in the area of investment in modern air traffic infrastructure?
A: The industry thrives on efficient systems to maintain safety. Therefore, investment in this area is key to the sustenance of safety and security. Talk of air traffic systems like ADS-B, multilateration, radars (MSSR, Mode S), voice over IP, digital radios, satellite navigation systems are all systems developed with new technology. I can see some effort by air navigation providers and civil aviation organizations in Africa towards these new technological systems.
Although it is not that widespread in Africa, it does not mean that we are operating with obsolete systems. Far from that, it looks like the region has taken a careful approach in transitioning to such technological systems. This for me is the best approach. You don’t jump onto any new technology without proper assessment of its benefits to the sustenance of safety and security.
I am aware that ASECNA, which is the air navigation provider in most French speaking countries in Africa, is working towards the extension of EGNOS services to Africa. This is a laudable project which obviously will serve as alternative to the use of Instrument Landing System (ILS) for airports. EGNOS is Europe’s version of the Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) and is currently in use in Europe. I hope we can do same to cement our status as one of the continents with enviable safety records.
Q: Training and re-training of ATSEPs in Africa is crucial but there seems to be some cog in the wheel of progress. Can you enumerate these challenges and the way forward?
A: The issue is about cost. Most ANSPs are putting profits above safety. They feel it costs so much to invest in ATSEP training due to the participants involved. For me, failure to train and perform refresher training for the ATSEPs should not be tolerated at all. If we understand the industry we operate, this issue of ATSEP training should not even become an issue because it should be automatic. Training is important and any ANSP or civil aviation organization that shuns training is dangerous and must be monitored.
Q: What is your major expectation for African ATSEPs at the ICAO Assembly 40TH Session?
A: My major expectation at the Assembly is that ICAO would move for the amendment of Annex 1 to recognize ATSEPs.
Q: How do you see African ATSEPs in the next five years?
A: If we follow what we have set out for ourselves to achieve collectively, then a lot more experts will emerge to reduce the dependency on foreign experts.