Worries over air traffic safety

While Zimbabwe has no record of major flight disasters, there are concerns that sky safety could be compromised as local civil and military aviation are operating with aged radar systems.

Civil air traffic has been using old equipment and the military has also failed to upgrade its plane detection and control system, according to reliable sources. This is despite the fact that the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) invested $30 million in refurbishing Harare International Airport in 2012.

Sources revealed that CAAZ is seeking to install a new radar system at the airport at a cost of $19 million. The State Procurement Board is handling the tender. The sources some managers at CAAZ wanted to upgrade the general communication system as this would save millions of dollars.

CAAZ Public Relations Manager, Anna Julia Hungwe, refused to shed light on the tendering process. “All the questions can only be responded to by the State Procurement Board as they are mandated to process tenders on behalf of State owned enterprises,” she said.

A 2012 parliamentary committee report on transport pointed out that civil aviation was in disarray. “Harare Airport is the only international airport in the world without a flight information display system. The committee was told that the runways, taxi ways, terminal buildings and air navigation equipment that support aviation at Harare Airport and other airports throughout the country were long overdue for rehabilitation,” said the report.

Radar systems are used to detect, control, guide and monitor air traffic. Zimbabwe is ranked under Category 2 by the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency, which means that the CAAZ is not providing sufficient safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum standards. Air Zimbabwe sued CAAZ for over $8,5 million for damages after its MA60 aircraft destined for Bulawayo collided with wild pigs on the runway in November 2009. The aircraft veered off the runway into bushes and two of the 34 passengers sustained minor injuries but the plane was extensively damaged.

In his opening remarks of the Inclusive government’s last parliamentary session in October last year, President Robert Mugabe said CAAZ would be split into two units in a move aimed at enabling government to improve its international obligations and responsibilities with respect to aviation safety oversight and security functions.

Said Mugabe: “In the transport, communications and infrastructural development sector, the Civil Aviation Act will be amended to provide for the separation of the two entities, namely, the Airports Management Administration and the Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority.” A report by the African Development Bank said weather installations at the country’s aerodromes were also inadequate.

“Shortcomings in surveillance raise concerns about search and rescue operations and broadband infrastructure is not available at most airports,” reads part of the AfDB report, adding that while CAAZ was making progress in addressing these deficiencies, much remained to be done.

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