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Afghanistan enhances airspace management capacity

In Afghanistan, there is an added element to managing multiple layers of airspace that many of the world’s busiest aerial infrastructures do not have, and that is the element of war.

KABUL, Afghanistan (Sept. 12, 2015) – In Afghanistan, there is an added element to managing multiple layers of airspace that many of the world’s busiest aerial infrastructures do not have, and that is the element of war.

As the country contends with its increased commercial inbound, outbound and overflight air traffic, it must also consider military aviation requirements here in support of the Afghanistan security forces.

With that as an ever-present consideration here, the middle of August marked a significant achievement for the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority and Resolute Support as procedures to enhancing the country’s airspace management were finalized.

The ACAA signed a letter of arrangement August 18 that documents procedures to ensure safe separation of military and civilian air traffic. Two days later, the Combined Forces Air Component Commander signed off on the document, which sealed the agreement with the Resolute Support coalition.

“The effort was complex,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott D. West, Resolute Support director for the Air Component Coordination Element. “Military and civil airspace users had to be consulted as we worked to improve the existing airspace construct and develop associated procedures.”

The importance of developing deconfliction procedures is to ensure a required layer of safety for all aircraft in a particular airspace. The airspace above Afghanistan is busy with both commercial aircraft and military aircraft supporting Afghan national security objectives.

West explained that among the many stakeholder contributions, legal opinions were also collected and put toward the adjustment of the procedures guiding daily civil-military aviation operations in Afghanistan. He added that the arrangements are consistent with the Bi-lateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Status of Forces Agreement between NATO and GIRoA.

“After successfully awarding the Afghanistan’s Airspace Operations Control Project and signing the arrangement for the procedures of integrating the Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces’ air operations within Afghanistan’s airspace, the international airline community can safely fly over Afghanistan’s territory,” said Mahmood Shah Habibi, ACAA deputy director general, deputy minister.

Contributing stakeholders to the effort have essentially simplified Afghanistan’s airspace transitioning it to an International Civil Aviation Organization recognized construct assisting in the safe transit of aircraft through Afghanistan airspace. For the international aviation community, overflights of countries are important to airlines intent of saving fuel costs and shorter flight time by going over Afghan airspace as opposed to around the country. Adopting existing procedures from the ICAO to Afghan airspace is important to safely operate commercial airlines and cargo operations through and to Afghanistan.

Thus, deconfliction underlies Afghan ownership of airspace management in the coming years, and it is yet another illustration of the country’s momentum toward streamlining and standardizing its entire aviation industry according to international aviation criterion.

“The ability to deconflict military and civil traffic is central to Afghanistan’s effort to take functional control of its airspace,” explained West. “The procedures comport with International Civil Aviation Organizational standards, and the improved airspace construct is simple.”

As the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan prepares to take control of their airspace by mid-September, deconfliction has taken on increased notability; but coordination between the ACAA and Resolute Support for such has actually been in the works for quite some time, years in fact.

Before last month’s agreement, a complex collection of airspace control measures were used to deconflict civil and military air traffic, according to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jared Asman, a senior advisor with the Civil Aviation Transition Branch of NATO Air Command – Afghanistan.

The RS advising team at NAC-A has worked extensively with the ACAA to help coordinate the development of a streamlined procedural arrangement. Certainly the practical implications of the arrangement are clear. Military operations in support of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces will continue without interference of Afghanistan’s civilian aviation operations and overflight airspace management, which has a revenue potential worthy of note.

“Afghanistan will continue to collect overflight revenue from commercial flights into and over Afghanistan’s airspace,” said West. “The revenue is sufficient for GIRoA to pay for future airspace control contracts while it develops indigenous, civil-servant capacity to perform air traffic control duties.”

The multifaceted nature of the arrangement demanded an all-inclusive approach to decipher layers of airspace use to minimize risk and optimize operational flow. Asman noted that all users – to include pilots, air traffic controllers, battlespace managers, etc. – poured into the effort to refine the concurrent use of Afghan airspace by military and civilian operators.

Asman stressed that transitioning airspace back to GIRoA is a significant milestone because it demonstrates GIRoA sovereignty and independence. The momentum established through ACAA and Resolute Support collaboration aligns Afghanistan’s aviation administration with ICAO international standards and recommended practices that will furthermore direct the capacity development necessary to manage international airspace connecting Europe and Asia, a substantial regional economic consideration for a landlocked Afghanistan.

A next major milestone for the ACAA is the training of fully qualified air traffic controllers, another complex and challenging aspect of Afghanistan’s airspace administration. Plans are underway for the implementation of an Afghan air traffic controller training program.

“The ACAA will have to continue to develop its indigenous capability, and if the ACAA can continue on this trajectory it will demonstrate the kind of independence that will allow a self-sustaining commercial aviation industry,” Asman said.

About Wayne Farley

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