Chipa Gonditi/Tinashe Kairiza
IN the wake of ongoing flight disruptions as a result of Zimbabwe’s outdated aviation traffic control system — which broke down last week rattling the Joint Operations Command (Joc), which brings together the army, police and intelligence service chiefs — government has moved in to acquire a new radar system at a cost of US$22 million.
Zimbabwe has an outdated and shambolic aviation radar control system, which has rendered Zimbabwe’s airspace unsafe while making the country unsecure.
Joc convened an urgent meeting last Monday after the country’s aviation control system broke down resulting in the airspace being temporarily closed. Security commanders then set a mid-December deadline, for the procurement of a new system, citing security fears.
Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Joel Biggie Matiza told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that government was procuring a modern aviation radar control system, six years after the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) had advised there was urgent need to acquire new technology.
Matiza said: “Caaz long identified the requirements for replacement of airspace management systems in 2013 which systems comprised air traffic control communications system, navigational aids systems, radar surveillance and aeronautical information management (AIM) systems.
“The authority is in the process of procuring the airspace management systems. The project implementation will be phased starting with the air traffic control system. The cost of the radar surveillance system is about US$22 million.”
Matiza could, however, not disclose the firm which was awarded the tender to roll out the multi-million dollar project.
Installation and management of a functional radar control system has become a theatre of fierce contestation between the military and Caaz, with the army moving in to take control of the project owing to the national security risks associated with it.
As reported by the Independent on December 21, 2018, the country has struggled to find a new radar system after Matiza and Caaz general manager David Chawota allegedly facilitated the awarding of a US$33,3 million tender to Indrastemas & Homt Espana of South Africa for air traffic control equipment without following public procurement procedure.
Although Indrastemas & Homt were initially awarded the tender in 2016, the deal was set aside after a competing Italian firm, Selex ES, won a Supreme Court case challenging the decision on the grounds that the tender was awarded unprocedurally.
In addition, Indrastemas & Homt did not pass a critical security vetting process by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the Air Force of Zimbabwe, as well as other security agencies.
Official documents seen by the Independent last year in December show that Chawota played a pivotal role in ensuring Indra was irregularly awarded the deal, while Caaz officials told this newspaper that the minister authorised it after intense lobbying.
In a letter dated May 2, 2018 and seen by the Independent, Chawota wrote to the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) advising the body to cancel yet another deal with South African company AME Aviation, which Caaz had engaged to supply an air traffic communication system and instead award it to Indra.
As reported by the Independent last week, prior to the latest flight disturbance owing to the obsolete aviation radar control system, the Air Traffic Controllers Association of Zimbabwe ATCAZ) has been urging the government to install a new technology but to no avail.
The body, in its correspondence to Matiza last month warned that the shambolic control system could potentially trigger an aviation catastrophe.
After the aviation radar control system broke down last week, Joc urgently convened a meeting which tasked Air Force commander Elsom Moyo to urgently address the crisis.
Moyo subsequently assigned air force technicians to the airport to activate the radar system.The military has now taken over the procurement of the radar and aviation communication system.
In its correspondence to Matiza, ATCAZ casts light on the dangers that could arise from running an obsolete aviation radar system, including the risks of aircraft collision, failure to promptly identify distressed aircraft, delays and increased operating costs of airlines.
Other risks associated with running a shambolic aviation radar system include “losses of revenue as aircraft avoid the space and portrayal of the country in bad light”.
Importantly, Zimbabwe risked being blacklisted by International Civil Aviation Organisation “due to failure to meet a basic mandatory requirement” the documents warn.