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JATCA outlines issues affecting ATC services in Jamaica

Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers' Association
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JATCA outlines issues affecting ATC services in Jamaica

Unread post by bimjim » Thu Aug 13, 2015


JATCA outlines issues affecting air traffic services in Jamaica

On Wednesday August 05, 2015 the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association (JATCA) held a press conference in which it outlined some of the developmental issues affecting the air traffic services in Jamaica, as well as provided an update on the status of current wage negotiations between the JATCA and the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA)/Government of Jamaica.

Subsequently, there has been much public discussion, including commentary by the management of the JCAA which appeared in The Observer on Sunday August 09, 2015 purportedly intended to “provide additional information that will increase the public’s understanding of the air transport industry issues which have gained public attention over the past days”.

The JATCA is satisfied that its sharing of information has generated discussion and directed public attention to matters that needed to be brought to the forefront of public debate. In encouraging this continued discussion it is necessary for the JATCA to address certain inconsistencies and add further clarification to statements issued by the JCAA in which it highlighted a number of projects which it stated outlined the JCAA’s efforts to implement a comprehensive modernization programme of its Air Navigations Infrastructure vis-à-vis its communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems.

New Control Towers

The new Control Towers which have been highlighted as part of the modernization plan have been under construction since 2009 and have been the subject of costly overruns and delays spanning more than four (4) years. Even as the JCAA attempts to finally bring the tower projects into operational reality, it does so against a backdrop of continued deficiencies in forward planning and end-user consultation, as well as occupational health and safety concerns which have plagued the projects from the onset.

New Instrument Landing System

There is currently no functioning Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Sangster International Airport; the nation’s busiest, handling 41,000 aircraft movements and 3.6 million passengers in 2014. The airport’s ILS system has been unserviceable since April 25, 2013. The impact of this situation is most pronounced during periods of adverse weather. Aircraft operating into the airport have to employ alternate instrument procedures or divert to another aerodrome. Giving consideration to the level of bureaucratic procedures within the government procurement process it will likely take at least another year for a new ILS to be installed and operational at Sangster International Airport. Meanwhile, the ILS for Norman Manley was installed in 1999 and commissioned into service in 2002. That system is 15 years old and has already surpassed its expected shelf life.

Microwave System

The new microwave network aimed at bolstering the current facility’s information-carrying capabilities is although fully installed, and in fact has already suffered a recent failure.

MEVA III upgrades

While the MEVA network is an essential tool in the coordination of flight activities between Jamaica and its neighbouring airspaces, local airspace structure and manpower considerations quickly nullify efficiencies gained from having the system. Jamaica’s airspace is bordered to the north by Havana (Cuba), to the east by Port-Au-Prince (Haiti), to the south-east by Curacao, to the south by Barranquilla (Colombia), to the south-west Panama, and to the west by CENAMER (Central America). These airspaces are further sectorized into different regions and use manpower of up to fifteen (15) persons for coordination activities while Jamaica uses only one (1) person to effect coordination activities with ALL the surrounding FIRs (airspaces).

New Projects

The JCAA's management alluded to the commencement of new projects for network monitoring and maintenance, however no mention was made of how exactly these projects in and of themselves enhance the efficiency and safety of Jamaica’s air navigation system. One of the realities of the modernization process is the fact that air traffic controllers will be required to re-train and implement the new procedures while simultaneously continuing to provide safe and reliable service. Risk Analyses need to be conducted for the new equipment and system construct, processes which could be quite timely and labour intensive.

Additionally, given that even new equipment can be prone to failure, it follows that all systems must be designed and implemented with redundancies and contingencies. This is especially so for air-ground communication systems, which are one of the essential components of the air navigation infrastructure. With much of Jamaica’s main air-ground network at the stage of obsolescence, the network is being supplemented by what would have otherwise been the stand-by or contingency units. This effectively means there are no longer contingency systems available in most instances.

And what of the human element; the air traffic controllers themselves? Are the proposed new equipment expected to manipulate themselves? Paradoxically, in the air navigation system automation does not reduce controller workload but instead increases it, by the simple reality of adding one more piece of equipment to monitor. Given the tumultuous industrial relations climate which exist at the JCAA, the management has not stated whether there has been enough consideration for and integration of the workforce in the planning or implementation of these projects.

99.99 percent availability of all systems

The JCAA has asserted that it has been able to maintain “availability of all its systems at levels which exceed the International Civil Aviation Organization standard of 99.99 percent availability…” JATCA in its press release highlighted the poor state of the country’s air navigation infrastructure and did so to highlight this factual situation which poses serious challenges to safety and efficiency.

We highlighted instances of failure of the systems which resulted in aircraft on occasion avoiding our airspace and flying around. In extreme instances we have had radar outages which prevented us from seeing aircraft under our control. In another extreme case there was a power failure which not only prevented us from seeing or hearing the aircraft under our control but also prevented us from effecting coordination with adjacent states and air traffic facilities.

It must be considered that if there were in fact 99.99 percent availability and reliability of Jamaica’s ANS system as purported by the JCAA then the JATCA position would have been moot, and most importantly the JCAA itself would have been less hard pressed to pursue the very arduous task of system modernization and upgrades. JATCA does not take the public trust lightly and is not in the habit of pursuing public mischief or making spurious claims. We did not state our case to scare the public but rather to awake public awareness and to call on the authorities to do the right thing and act quickly.

As part of its international reporting obligations the JCAA is required to inform its users, in the form of NOTAMS (Notices To Air Men) of system failures or degradation of service it is experiencing due to technical or other deficiencies. Over the past three years these incidences of service depletion have been more frequent and varied in nature. They are documented. However, it appears that the JCAA is more committed to bolstering its image than to accept that there are serious challenges which impede its ability to provide a safe, high quality service and to foster a stable industrial relations climate.

Wage negotiations

The leadership of the JCAA has expressed a “commitment to securing an amicable resolution to the current industrial relations challenges”. JATCA however is hard pressed to find evidence of this commitment as the JCAA took almost three (3) months to respond to the JATCA’s May 2015 wage claim, and it’s handling of the current wage negotiations has thus far culminated in only one (1) wage meeting being held in response to the claim since its submission!

The JATCA, despite the immense industrial relations and operational challenges being experienced by its members remain steadfast in upholding the dignity of the air traffic control profession and fostering the development of the wider aviation industry. Against many seemingly insurmountable constraints the air traffic controllers have managed to continue to provide safe air traffic control service to the public. While much discussion has been sparked by our disclosure regarding operational issues affecting the aviation sector, ultimately our hope is that the issues identified are not treated as mere sound bites for public commentary but are addressed by the responsible authorities in the shortest time possible.

(* PDF file also available on original web page)

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