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Letter of the Day: Outdated equipment endangers air safety

Published:Monday | April 18, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Jamaica is a signatory member state of the International Civil Aviation Organization and hence is required to adhere to strict guidelines as it relates to aviation safety oversight. It is a known fact that regulations are necessary to give the public confidence in the safety of air transportation. After all, there are countries that are facing challenges as it relates to airport and airspace modernisation, airport congestion, federal budget limitations, human factors, and security threats.

For many months now, the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association has made it clear that the current air-navigation equipment being used is outdated.

NDB, VOR, and ILS navigation aids are older technologies coming as far back from both world wars. Jamaica's navigation equipment is primarily ground based. If equipment malfunctions and is taken off line, the workload for a pilot and air traffic control has now increased. Keep in mind it can take days or weeks for an airport and its partners to source replacement parts, along with fixing the equipment.

Any such increase comes with the risk of an air accident or incident occurring. AAL Flight 965, which crashed in the mountains of Buga, Colombia, was a result of pilot error resulting in a B757 going off course. At the time of the accident, the destination airport had no functioning radar system to monitor the airplane's flight path.

Air-traffic management systems serve two important purposes: to prevent collisions between aircraft and to ensure the safe and efficient flow of air traffic. This is normally achieved by the following air traffic services: separation assurance, flight information services, search and rescue, and congestion management.




The national airspace above Jamaica comprises a series of air routes, airspace classifications, and navigation aids. Air-traffic rules are based on prevailing weather conditions, which can either be instrument flight rules or visual flight rules.

I strongly support the calls of Kurt Solomon, president of the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association, for separating the JCAA's provision of airport and air-navigation services from its regulatory functions. This can be achieved by establishing an air-navigation service provider, which is going to be responsible for managing all flight traffic in the country's airspace. Air-navigation service providers normally fall into one of three categories: government departments, state-owned companies, or privatised organisations.

Last, to Minister of Transport Mike Henry, because of the rapid growth of emerging carriers, terrorist threats, demands in air travel, ageing infrastructure such as airports, and air-traffic facilities, sustaining airline profitability, air-passenger safety, and industry security are not responsibilities to be taken lightly.