Longer flight times between Johannesburg and Cape Town – The SKA addresses concerns

Recent media reports have raised concerns that new regulations related to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) may impact flight paths between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with a square kilometre of collecting area.

For the SKA radio telescope to function optimally it is important to limit all outside radio interference in the area.

To achieve this goal the Department of Science and Technology introduced regulations which came into force in December 2018.

These regulations establish a system of assessing and permitting users of radio frequency spectrum within the declared Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area.

Dr Adrian Tiplady, head of strategy and business processes at the SKA, told MyBroadband that the intention is to establish, and manage, an optimised radio frequency environment.

This environment, he said, should be suitable for hosting radio astronomy facilities – such as the SKA – and enabling the use of radio frequency spectrum for essential telecommunication services.

Concerns about regulations

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), recently raised concerns that these regulations may impact flight paths, however.

Tiplady highlighted that it was agreed that aviation be excluded from the regulations due to a variety of factors.

“The regulations there are quite explicit on this matter, and prescribe that they are not applicable to radio communication services utilised by the aviation industry,” he said.

Zweigenthal, however, told Rapport that while the regulations accommodate the aviation industry, more clarity is needed regarding the matter.

Discussions with the aviation industry

Tiplady said the SKA and the Department of Science and Technology have been engaging with various aviation stakeholders regarding the regulations.

These discussions focused on quantifying the potential impact aviation activity may have on the SKA.

After the impact was established, the parties will jointly develop and agree to mitigation measures that would reduce this impact as far as practically possible.

“At this stage we are still busy understanding the impact by doing a variety of tests and simulations,” Tiplady said.

He added that they have not started the development of possible mitigation measures, but would do so jointly with the aviation sector.

No diversion needed – yet

Tiplady said they are currently not at a stage where they require a diversion of flights to take place.

“We are currently assessing the impact of the nearest air routes to the SKA site, which is the major Johannesburg-Cape Town route,” he said.

He said various mitigation measures can be explored if planes in the area impact the operation on the SKA, including:

  • Reduced transmission power levels in the vicinity of the SKA.
  • Special rules areas.
  • Taking advantage of more modern equipment.
  • Slight flight-path deviations.

None of these interventions will result in major time or cost increases in flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town, he said.

“By no means are we envisaging major detours via Port Elizabeth, for example,” said Tiplady.

Now read: SKA reaches new development milestone

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Longer flight times between Johannesburg and Cape Town – The SKA addresses concerns