ADS-B: Are South African Operators Really Ready?

Globally, countries are implementing the latest in aircraft tracking, and ensuring that the standards are being met. What is ADS-B, why is it important, and will Southern Africa be ready in time for the deadline? Sherryn de Vos explores…

Sherryn de Vos  |  17th May 2022
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Sherryn de Vos
Sherryn de Vos

Sherryn de Vos is a content specialist at AOM Digital, a digital marketing agency whose primary client...

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ADS-B in Southern Africa: Will aircraft operators meet the deadline?

Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) has become one of the most talked-about global mandates, transforming safety in aviation.

Implemented across Europe and the United States, ADS-B is also being rolled-out across Asia and Australia. But, has Southern Africa fallen behind?

Thus far, ADS-B is still ‘in the pipeline’, with a veil of uncertainty surrounding its implementation. Not only has this had a knock-on effect for airlines and business owners, but also contributed to the stagnation of various avionic solutions and the evolution of technology in the region.

What is ADS-B?

Essentially, ADS-B is the technology that will eventually replace radar as the primary surveillance method for Air Traffic Control (ATC) monitoring and separation of aircraft. Its existence has come about to enhance aviation safety and efficiency. It has been created to directly benefit pilots, controllers, airports, and the public.

Traditionally, radars have only been able to update an aircraft's position every 12 seconds. However, ADS-B moves tracking from ground radar and navigational aids to satellite signals which ensures that updates are received in real-time. For the first time, even the more remote regions like the Gulf of Mexico, and much of Alaska have surveillance coverage.

Vital data can now be conveyed to and from aircraft including:

  • Flight Identification (flight number or ‘call sign’)
  • ICAO 24-bit Aircraft Address (globally unique airframe code)
  • Position (latitude/longitude)
  • Altitude
  • Vertical Rate (rate of climb/descent)
  • Track Angle and Ground Speed (velocity)
  • Emergency Indication (when emergency code selected).

What are the Benefits of ADS-B?

The safety benefits of ADS-B speak for its existence. It offers various core surveillance, cockpit advisory, and cockpit critical services.

  • With ADS-B In, pilots can have direct access to what controllers see. They have a display showing other aircraft in the sky which provides them with greater situational awareness and crucial information. These cockpit displays also pinpoint hazardous weather and terrain, providing vital data straight to the cockpit about temporary restrictions.
  • ADS-B In reduces the risk of runway incursions. The cockpit will receive key information that shows the location of aircraft and equipped adverse weather conditions.
  • Reliance on satellites enables aircraft to fly more directly from Point A to B, saving time and money, since fuel burn is reduced.
  • The improved accuracy, integrity and reliability of satellite signals will translate to controllers eventually being able to safely reduce the minimum separation distance between aircraft. This will in turn, increase capacity in the skies.

A Mandate Sweeping the World… Why not Africa?

While on a globally basis, ADS-B is becoming a requirement, and is already mandated for most aircraft flying above FL180, things seem hazy across Africa and in South Africa.

Initial reports suggested that ADS-B would be required in South Africa from April 2020. As that date approached, the industry held its breath, since it was not fully prepared to comply/

As the roll-out date loomed, the requirement was suspended without much more information about a new date. Then, in October 2020 another Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) was published by the Civil Aviation Authority setting out the following dates:

  • All new Transponder Installations are to be ADS-B compliant.
  • All RVSM aircraft to be fully compliant by June 15, 2023.
  • All aircraft operating in the AFI region to be compliant by June 2025.

Essentially, as of June 2025, no one will be allowed to enter any Class A or Class C Airspace unless they are ADS-B compliant.

So, is the Southern Africa aviation industry ready for this mandate to be rolled out? “Honestly? After watching the USA and Europe requirements and implementation, I am not convinced that this mandate can be met,” notes Clinton Carroll, Managing Director of Aeronautical Aviation.

According to Carroll, there are just not enough avionics facilities, nor personnel to make this happen in the timeline set out in the AIC.

Another thing factoring is the worldwide semi-conductor shortage. “Manufacturers of the equipment have their hands tied with supply,” Carroll adds. “Lead-times are as long as six months on equipment required to meet this mandate. If everyone ordered today, I still don't believe that the demand can be met by the equipment manufacturers.”

Ultimately, he says, “will have to wait and see what transpires from this but a workshop by the SACAA or ATNS with all aircraft operators – Commercial and General – as well as installation facilities, will need to be held to gain clarity on this situation and the full set of requirements”.

Wrapping Up

While South Africa, and the rest of the region waits for a final date to be implemented, industry players are encouraging operators and owners to prepare for compliance.

For some, it may not be a tall order. Depending on the vintage of your aircraft, the equipment can be simple or complex. So, if you have a newer aircraft, and an established glass cockpit, the good news is that you may already have many of the elements on board.

In order to prepare yourself, it is highly recommended that you take these first steps:

  • ADS-B will require at least one Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)-capable GPS receiver connected directly to the transponders.
  • The transponders also will need to be upgraded to be compliant.

Your local avionics partner should be in a position to assist you with this.

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