Technology takes SA aviation to new heights

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 07 Mar 2024
SA is proud of the continued 0% fatal accident rate held in the commercial airlines sector for nearly four decades. (Photograph source: GCIS)
SA is proud of the continued 0% fatal accident rate held in the commercial airlines sector for nearly four decades. (Photograph source: GCIS)

The South African government has set its sights on boosting the use of technology to improve safety and efficiency in the country’s aviation industry.

This was revealed by transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga this week during a press briefing about the state of SA’s civil aviation industry.

“It is essential to acknowledge our achievements, assess our challenges, and chart a course forward that aligns with the needs of our society and the global imperatives of economic growth, sustainability, safety and efficiency,” she said.

According to Chikunga, the aviation sector forms part of the critical global and national enablers of the social, economic and cultural development of countries through mobility and connectivity.

“South Africa is proud of the continued 0% fatal accident rate held in the commercial airlines sector for nearly four decades. Our target is to maintain this record for decades to come. One of the current administration’s strategic targets is to reduce accidents in the general aviation sector by 50%.”

She pointed out that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has been on an automation journey, migrating its internal business processes to ensure a paperless entity.

“The SACAA has recently focused on external processes that will revolutionise the way our industry transacts with the regulator.”

In this regard, Chikunga added, a number of innovative solutions have been launched. These include a move away from a hardcopy booklet that is still used by many aviation states to identify licensed personnel, to a smart card licence that is empowered with state-of-the-art security features.

The regulator has also in the last year launched an e-services portal, where operators can submit their certificate renewal applications online and also pay online, the minister said.

“We must embrace the new digital era, as it plays a critical role in our everyday living and in saving lives.”

Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga. (Photograph source: GCIS)
Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga. (Photograph source: GCIS)

Chikunga noted SA was among the first countries in the world to implement unmanned aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) drone laws and regulations in 2015, in order to ensure safe usage and integration of this new technology into the traditional aviation space.

“Technology also plays an integral role in the creation of a new class of aviation professionals. The good news is that there will be even more careers to choose from RPAS and Advanced Air Mobility which is in the pipeline.

“Let’s use this new age of technology to foster the necessary skills pipeline from the riches of the diverse nation that we are. This new technology gives us an added advantage of ensuring we transform the aviation industry even faster.”

As an example, she noted the implementation of remotely piloted aircrafts, in August 2022, when the South African National Blood Services was licensed to deliver blood and essential medical samples, using drones in what became a ground-breaking achievement for the country.

“The value of this initiative is understated, more so when we consider that 32% of South Africans live in rural, and in most cases, hard-to-reach destinations.

“Blood delivery to local clinics that may not be accessible by road transport is now possible and has been made easier and faster to access. This is an innovative step in the history of blood transportation. Every second you gain in saving a life is critical.”

The minister also announced that since the SACAA launched an automated system on 1 February, the first phase saw the processing of foreign operator permits through a newly-developed system.

She noted the next phase is to automate the submission and processing of domestic and international air service licences.

In the interim, the SACAA has provided clarity on how the applications for air service licences will be processed until automation is implemented, she said.

On the Air Traffic Navigation Systems (ATNS), Chikunga said: “In ATNS’s pursuit of more essential infrastructure upgrades to ensure the entity is future-fit to continue delivering on its national mandate, up to R155 million is required in the next financial year for investment into its Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network (AFTN).

AFTN is a worldwide system of aeronautical fixed circuits provided as part of the aeronautical fixed service, for the exchange of messages and/or digital data between aeronautical fixed stations having the same or compatible communications characteristics.

Cyber threat awareness

For air cargo, government introduced the e-airwaybill with the industry, to enhance efficiency and competitiveness.

Chikunga believes innovations such as real-time tracking systems, data analytics, automation and artificial intelligence can streamline operations, improve visibility and optimise resource allocation.

Embracing this digitalisation can only lead to greater transparency, cost savings and a better customer experience within this space, she said.

“While we also embrace innovation, we are equally mindful of cyber threats. Cyber security is essential for maintaining the integrity, safety and resilience of the aviation system. We are collaborating more to effectively mitigate risks and enhance cyber security across the sector.

“The truth of the matter is that the future of freight is digital; and that is our reality. Therefore, a robust air cargo system is essential for global trade, speed, efficiency, connectivity, supply chain resilience, economic growth, and the timely delivery of essential goods and services.”