Removed equipment threatens airlines

The Civil Aviation Authority has withdrawn all instrument approaches from the country's two international airports, infuriating airlines.

19 July 2019 | Transport

Airlines operating in Namibia and those flying over Namibian airspace are up in arms after the Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) withdrew all instrument approaches from the Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) and the Walvis Bay airport.

Instrument approaches are procedures which are based on equipment mounted at airports to help pilots manoeuvre aircraft to safely land in cases of poor visibility such as thick clouds or during the night.

These have to be part of the requisite flight plan files to be distributed to civil aviation authorities as aircraft have to show preparedness for worst-case scenarios.

The two airports use two types of approaches: the visual omnidirectional range (VOR) approach used at HKIA and the Walvis Bay airport, and the Instrument Landing System (ILS) used only at HKIA.

It is understood that the only instrument approach now available is the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approach, which is a GPS-based satellite guidance system, which only large and expensive aircraft are certified for.

The Walvis Bay airport does not have the RNP system at all.

It is understood that pilot instrument flight rules (IFR) training is severely affected at the coast, as well as in Windhoek.



Fury

Industry players said not even all aircraft of Air Namibia or Comair (the British Airways operator) can fly on the RNP approach, much less smaller operators.

“This affects practically all airline operators, those using the two airports as well as those flying over the Namibian airspace using Windhoek as an alternate in case something might happen. These now have to use an alternate on their route instead of using the Namibian airspace,” one industry player observed. What makes matters worse, the industry player said, is that the Namibia Meteorological Service equipment is not calibrated, which means that pilots cannot even rely on weather reports.

He added: “It affects everyone, even the emergency flights such as medical evacuation flights that need to fly at night. Someone is playing games with the safety of passengers and money as if Namibia is a cash cow. The bottom line is that the airline industry is crippled.”

Other industry players are livid over the withdrawal, not only because it paralyses much of their operations, but also because the instrument approaches, which were only recently implemented, cost the taxpayer “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

The new approaches were acquired at the behest of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which felt that the previous approaches were not functioning.



NCAA responds

The interim executive director of the NCAA, Reinhardt Gärtner, acknowledged that the withdrawal could “cause inconvenience to certain local operators”, who he said are mainly those using the approaches for training purposes.

“But the NCAA is doing its best to have the reviewed approaches commissioned as soon as possible,” he said.

Gärtner said the withdrawal of the instrument approaches at the airports was done as a “precautionary measure”.

“It is an international standard that procedures shall be reviewed periodically to ensure they are still meeting the regulatory safety requirement. The ILS and VOR (VHF omnidirectional range) procedures are due for scheduled review in 2020 but it was decided to do it now already,” Gärtner said.

He said the procedures will be reviewed and republished “as soon as practicable in accordance with regulations”, adding that the best time of the year for the withdrawal is in the dry season, which is free of cloud cover.

Asked how airlines will be affected by the withdrawal, Gärtner said operators executing the RNP, a procedure requiring on-board navigation performance monitoring and alerting capability, will be unaffected except in the event that the cloud base is lower than the published minima for the approaches and aircraft types.

“Operators unable to execute the RNP procedures at Hosea Kutako may be affected in the event that low visibility and low cloud and/or fog conditions occur,” Gärtner said.

He said all aircraft operators have been duly informed by a Notam (Notice to Airmen) published on the NCAA's website, which is used worldwide in aviation to notify aviators of any changes in the aviation system.

CATHERINE SASMAN

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