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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 20:05 GMT
Modernising Africa's skies
Kilimanjaro Airport
Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania
By BBC transport reporter Tom Symonds

Africa has a worse record for aircraft accidents than any other part of the world - the skies are largely unregulated.

In Europe, most of the time, airline pilots are given turn-by-turn guidance from air traffic controllers on the ground.

Flights passing through are tracked every step of the way.

In the skies over Africa, pilots find their way by calling out on their radios, and checking their collision avoidance systems - which warn of nearby planes coming within a 40 mile radius.

Safer Skies agreement

Outside South Africa there are few radar systems.

Many airports do not have landing systems to bring planes onto the ground at night or in bad weather.

In 1998 the then American President Bill Clinton signed a Safer Skies agreement to give countries like Tanzania technical help.

It was aimed at helping the continent integrate itself into the global air traffic system, and one effect has been to push up the amount of air traffic heading for Africa.

So even though only 5% of the world's aircraft cross Africa, there is a demand for better air traffic services.
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
The Tanzanian Government says better air traffic control will bring in more money

That demand is one of the motives behind Tanzania's decision to come shopping in Britain for a new control system.

The World Bank says in an unpublished report that Tanzania could have bought an adequate system for a quarter of the 28m it is paying BAe Systems.

The Tanzanian Government argues that far from landing the country in debt, better air traffic control will bring in money.

Need to modernise

Tanzania's biggest earner is tourism - it has some of the world's great game reserves - the country could bring in billions simply by charging airlines to enter its airspace.

Better control of the skies could also help prevent smuggling and ivory poaching.

Few want to deny the right of the country to modernise its aviation industry, the concern is with the price.

Tanzania has just seen some of its debts cancelled - the last thing the world's financial organisations want to see is for those debts to start rising again.

But with the country crying out for more down-to-earth requirements such as healthcare and clean water, it's not surprising that a growing coalition of charities, aviation experts and British politicians believes air traffic control should be a major priority.

See also:

11 Sep 01 | Business
World Bank pushes anti-poverty drive
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