Improving Nigeria’s Airspace

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Chinedu Eze
Nigerian Communication Satellite Ltd (NIGCOMSAT), the Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) and Thales Alenia Space are joining efforts to accelerate Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) development for aviation and other sectors of the economy in Nigeria and in Africa.
The objective of this development is to improve communication, surveillance and safety in Nigeria and Africa’s airspace.

Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (76% and Leonardo (33%), which is bringing the latest surveillance technology to the region’s airspace, while NIGCOMSAT and ASECNA would provide the funds.
Satellite Based Augmentation System is the augmentation of a global navigation satellite system, which is a method of improving the navigation system’s attributes, such as accuracy, reliability, and availability, through the integration of external information into the calculation process.

THISDAY learnt that following the broadcast of a SBAS signal over Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI) region since September 2020, providing the first SBAS open service in this part of the world via NIGCOMSAT-1R Satellite, the three partners have successfully conducted on 27 January 2021 a series of five flight demos at Lomé International Airport.

The goal was to show in real configuration the efficiency of the technology developed in the frame of the early open service as part of the SBAS for Africa and Indian Ocean programme which pursues the autonomous provision over the continent of SBAS services, to augment the performances of the satellite navigation constellations GPS and Galileo.

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, explained to THISDAY that the agency had held earlier discussion with ASECNA over the installation of the facilities.

“We had had meetings with ASECNA, Ghana and the countries in the West Coast states. What we did then was contract ASECNA to finance the programme and we share the cost based on utilization. We already have radar, but SBAS is cloud based surveillance system.

“The radar system we are already using is installed in eight places and it covers the whole country, but this one is cloud-based system, which is one of the latest in the industry. So when the SBAS is installed it will be augmentation for all of us,” Akinkuotu said.

He said the installation of the surveillance system was not likely to bring down the charges paid by airlines for aeronautical services, especially at the initial period of installation, but would improve aviation safety because air safety is based on redundancies.

THISDAY also learnt that tests already conducted were done by means of the ASECNA calibration aircraft (ATR42-300), which has been equipped for the occasion by Pildo Labs with specific sensors and embarked VIPs and pilots in five rotations over Lome airport.

“The aim of the experiment was to demonstrate the ability of the system to allow landings on the two ends of the runway without deployment of local ground infrastructure and with a performance level close to the use of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS).

“It demonstrates the benefits of the future operational safety-of-life SBAS services, expected from 2024, in terms of flight safety, efficiency and of environmental protection,” said ASECNA.

The outcomes of the demonstrations, as a crucial step forward the provision and use of satellite navigation services in the Africa and Indian Ocean region, were debriefed on January 28th and 29th, during an international outreach event on SBAS in aviation in Africa, gathering airlines, aircraft manufacturers and other aviation stakeholders from all over the world.

“We are proud to support the SBAS for Africa and Indian Ocean open service and to have contributed to the success of these inflight demos using our geostationary communication satellite NIGCOMSAT-1R navigation payload,” MD/CEO of NIGCOMSAT, Abimbola Alale said.

“The SBAS demonstration flight feat is in line with policy direction of the Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of Federal Republic of Nigeria; Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) for value addition and propensity not only in the telecommunications sector but aviation, maritime, rail transport, precision agriculture, survey, oil and gas and mass-market applications for sustainable development beyond Nigerian shores,” he added.

Vice President Navigation business at Thales Alenia Space, Benoit Broudy, said, “Our longstanding expertise acquired with the development of EGNOS [1] SBAS in Europe and KASS SBAS in Korea combined with our new leading-edge satellite positioning technologies makes Thales Alenia Space the ideal partner to best support countries to implement their own SBAS efficiently. We hope these series of demos will help to accelerate SBAS adoption in aviation in Africa.”

Also, Director General of ASECNA, Mohamed Moussa said: “I’m proud to have demonstrated the utility and efficiency of the SBAS services in the continent. This event will bolster the deployment of the “SBAS for Africa & Indian Ocean” system, the navigation solution for Africa by Africa, which will enhance air navigation safety and efficiency for the benefit of the whole continent, in line with my vision for the unification of the African Sky.”