AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL LIVED TO GET A NEW NAVIGATION SYSTEM
Representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol), and managers of the civil aviation authorities of Bulgarian neighbour countries attended the official opening of the new flight navigation centre of the Air Traffic Control Service. Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport Nikolay Vassilev visited the ceremony, too.Although the system installed by the Italian Alenia Marconi Systems was already put in operation, the work on the project is not finished. By end-October, the main executor will have to install the new navigation SATCAS equipment. Eighty per cent of the project has been fulfilled so far. The additional functions of the equipment stipulated by the contract need to be introduced now.Today is a very important day, because Bulgaria already has one of the best flight navigation systems in Europe, Minister Vassilev said. The price of the agreement signed with Alenia Marconi in July 2000 will be raised by EUR1.1MN and will become EUR30.7MN, he added. The extra amount will be used for modernisation of the software and equipment, because part of it meets the international requirements valid five years ago when the project was prepared. According to Tsvetan Dilov, head of the state-owned controlling company, the financial adjustment is not insignificant.This is the second attempt to put the new navigation centre in operation. It was scheduled to be ready at the end of 2003, but financial debates delayed its implementation. The new equipment was only installed in March 2004, but during the standard tests Bulgarian experts noticed more than 150 lapses that had to be removed. The last tests ended successfully on January 17, 2005.Unlike the old system, the new one is entirely automated and meets all international and European aviation standards. The equipment will allow for warning about crash dangers, deviations from the planes' routes or dangerous approachings to the Earth up to 30 minutes in advance. The system is able to process simultaneously information received from 16 radio location stations. In 2006, the new Single Air Traffic Control Centre will unite the existing regional centres that serve air traffic in Sofia and Varna, transport officials explained.In 2004, transitional traffic above the country has increased by 10%, whereas the traffic of departing and landing planes has grown by 34 per cent. Nevertheless, the Air Traffic Control Service revenues from planes flying above the country are not higher, Tsvetan Dilov said. The reason is that the length of the transition corridors was shortened by 10% (from 302 to 270 km). According to unofficial information, the annual revenues of the company amount to EUR80MN. The transport ministry is ambitious to raise them by EUR50MN, but that will only be possible if the Bulgarian Air Traffic Control Service takes up the traffic in the region after the agreement for a single European sky becomes valid. The agreement stipulates that the navigation of the air traffic above the continent be taken by five to seven management companies. The biggest rivals of the Bulgarian company are the Italian, the Romanian and the Greek ones. The first two are equipped by Alenia Marconi Systems, whereas the Greek one was built by the Italians' biggest competitor, the German Thales. It is not clear yet which of the three countries is going to profit by the agreement. The centre based in Brindisi, Italy, is considered the favourite. According to rumours, Bulgaria will take up the traffic below 6,000 m which accounts for some 15% of all flights. But if the rumours appear true, the revenues of the Air Traffic Control Service will not grow but decrease by EUR50MN per year, because the fees for flying above the region will be paid to Italy. Therefore, the whole investment in the construction of the new centre will turn out useless.