The Kathmandu Post, 25 Jan 2018
Come February, Kathmandu’s congested airspace will start accommodating more aircraft, thanks to the new radar that has been installed at Bhatte Danda in Lalitpur.
Once the new radar starts functioning from February 1, Kathmandu’s existing airspace will be able to fit in three times more aircraft, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) said on Wednesday.
Currently, big aircraft flying on Kathmandu’s airspace must maintain a distance of 15 nautical miles or 28km in the sky. This is technically referred to as ‘minimum horizontal separation between aircraft’. Once the new en-route monopulse secondary surveillance radar (MSSR) starts functioning, big aircraft can maintain a distance of only 5 nautical miles, or just over 9 km, in the air according to the Caan. This means more aircraft will fit in the same airspace, reducing airspace congestion.
Separation is the concept of keeping an aircraft at a minimum distance to reduce the risk of collisions in the wake of turbulence.
The new system will improve airspace utilisation, reduce delays and enhance safety, said Toshiji Abe, an expert from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), who is working with the project. “As airlines are observing en-route capacity constraints, flight delays are becoming daily occurrences,” he said, adding, “The radar will reduce these constrains to some extent, enabling air traffic controllers to maintain normal traffic flow.”
The Jica has been supporting Nepal to improve its aviation safety. “By five years, if things go as planned, we hope to equip most of the airports in remote areas with modern technology,” Abe said, adding, “These airports are deemed as critical transport infrastructure, but are risky due to lack of technology.”
As part of the broader Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) modernisation project, the Jica has provided Rs90 million grant to Nepal to improve air safety. Under the project, two radars have been installed at TIA and at the top of Bhatte Danda. The MSSR was installed in July 2016 after four years of work. The Jica handed over the project to the Caan last September. The Jica recently provided another Rs1.51 billion grant to improve safety and efficiency of air transport in Nepal.
The sophisticated infrastructure at Bhatte Danda covers almost all of Nepal, from east, south, north and up to Surkhet (250 nautical miles or 463 km) in the west. This next generation radar also provides improved accuracy and enhanced surveillance, and marks the entry of the latest technology in Nepal’s air traffic control. This is expected to play a crucial role in enhancing air safety in areas where radar coverage is so far limited.
According to Caan’s engineer Sanjiv Singh Kathayat, radar surveillance will increase fivefold after the new equipment is switched on on February 1.
Almost all air routes across Nepal will be visible on the radar system, which will make the job of air traffic controllers (ATCs) easier, he said.
Another highlight of the radar is its ability to trace precise location of an aircraft. In bad weather conditions or in case of a navigation equipment failure in an aircraft, ATCs can provide radar vectoring service. Under this service, ATC instructs the pilot to fly in specific direction at specific time by maintaining two-way radio communication. This procedure enables the ATC to guide the pilot to take the aircraft to the landing point.
The radar also detects aircraft that has violated Nepal’s airspace. It also tracks the violation of the standard operating procedure by domestic carriers. Some domestic aircraft, according to ATCs, fly over the Mt Everest to provide thrilling experience to passengers, even though they are barred from flying at an altitude of over 19,000 to 20,000 ft. The radar detects such breaches, ATCs said.
The radar also provides information about movement of flights from the moment they take-off or land, weather conditions, aircraft identity and altitude, among others.
Jun Sakuma, chief representative of the Jica Nepal, said air safety is one of the priority sectors of Jica’s cooperation in Nepal. “The radar’s installation, we hope, will further strengthen aviation services in Nepal,” he added.