Friday, December 14, 2012

Lack Of Radar No Big Deal - Civil Aviation Minister John Maginley

Antigua st. John's - No country regulated by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) is mandated to have a working radar system in place, according to Civil Aviation Minister  John Maginley.

Speaking with Caribarena on Thursday, Minister Maginley sought to quell concerns about the damaged radar system in the Air Traffic Control (ATC) department of the VC Bird International Airport.

The Minister said all commotion about the subject is unwarranted since Antigua and Barbuda continues to use a recognized and well-regulated system.

“There is no country governed by ECCAA that has a radar,” Maginley said. “All the countries governed by ECCAA use what is called a procedural approach and that has been ongoing for a while.”

The aviation minister noted that the radar is used to assist ATCs in directing air traffic but it is not a mandatory device and its absence, he said, does not make the airport any less safe.

Nonetheless, he pointed out that government has for some time been trying to “upgrade” the country’s aviation system to bring it in line with other destinations like St. Maarten, the French islands, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

“We are working on it. This year, if I recall correctly, they brought in a consultant who has made some upgrades. I know it is down. Consultants have made recommendations and the mechanical parts have been fixed. I think the issue now is the size of the UPS and they are working with ECCA on what is the right size of the thing,” Maginley said about the current situation.

That notwithstanding, he maintains that the country’s aviation system operates quite effectively with the procedural approach, and says this has been confirmed with ECCA.

Whenever the radar does come on stream, Maginley says this would only be the beginning of the process, as training of staff and other mechanical upgrades within the ATC department would also need to accompany the activation.

“It requires training and an upgrade. Its not just simply about putting it in. It is an ongoing progress and the technical people are working with ECCAA to see how soon we could get to that,” the minister said.

The consultant, Dr. Vincent Richards, recently proposed to Cabinet the upgrade process that will bring bring Antigua and Barbuda in line with Trinidad the regional leader for air traffic control, and the place where many of the region’s air traffic controllers are trained.

But, as with most things in the twin-island state lately, the Minister said the issue at this moment is one of funding. Government has simply not been able to disburse the budgeted $714,407 required for the ‘Restoration of the Airport Radar’ initiative proposed in the 2012 Estimates.


Caribarena continued its investigations into the matter on Thursday, speaking with more experts in the field, and in the process coming up with further revelations about the country’s airspace.

One senior air traffic control officer (ATCO) here said the airspace controlled from the V.C. Bird International Airport surrounds the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Redonda, St Kitts and Nevis, and basically covers an area of 10,000 square miles and a vertical height of 24,500 feet.

This number, he said, was recently reduced due to airspace lost as a result of the control area not being equipped with radar.

According to the ATCO, all other countries within the region that have control over the airspace of other territories (such as Antigua does) are equipped with radar.

“The airspace extends about 80 miles to the east, 70 miles to the west, 26 miles to the south and 53 miles to the north. Within the airspace, St. Kitts and Nevis controls a block of airspace, which is about 625 square miles and extends to a height of 6,500 feet,” this newspaper’s source explained.

Antigua’s airspace is bordered by Guadeloupe’s airspace to the south, Puerto Rico’s airspace to the west and north (above 15,000 ft), Saint Maarten airspace to the north (below 15,000 feet) and Trinidad and Tobago Oceanic Airspace to the east.

 The source went further to point out that the unique characteristic of Antigua’s airspace is that it is the only ECCAA-regulated OECS territory airspace of that size with an accompanying volume of air traffic.

“In other words the airspace is very busy when compared to St.Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and Dominican airspace.

Dominica only has a vertical height of 7,000 feet, above which Guadeloupe and Martinique airspace takes effect. St Lucia also has a limited area of space that it occupies and its vertical height only goes up to 13,000 feet when compared to Antigua’s 24,500 feet height. St .Vincent and Grenada also go up to 13,000 ft in height,” the source said.

Antigua and Barbuda was the first OECS territory to invest in a radar system. This was back in the year 2000. The country is sandwiched by neighbouring territories that are all radar environments.

And according to this source, a challenge exists for aircraft flying from Puerto Rican airspace into Antiguan airspace of having to adjust to “an antiquated means of air traffic control”.

He added: “Saint Maarten has less airspace than Antigua but had to invest in radar because of the (sheer) volume of traffic which goes through there on a daily basis.”

Concerning Antigua’s situation, he said: “It was so important that the former chief of ATC and now an ECCAA Director along with his deputy at the time who is now an ECCAA employee successfully articulated to the Government the need to get the radar. If the need was there in 1997/1998 it has to be even more relevant in 2012,” the source said.

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