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The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has presented to the Agency for Aerial Navigation and Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) the concept of Free Route Airspace (FRA) already in operation within the Kano Flight Information Region.
Free Route Airspace (FRA) is a specified airspace within which users may freely plan a route between a defined entry point and a defined exit point. Subject to airspace availability, the route can be planned directly from one to the other or via intermediate (published or unpublished) waypoints, without reference to the ATS route network. Within this airspace, flights remain subject to air traffic control.
The FRA derivatives include increased airspace capacity; shorter travel time; reduced carbon emission, reduced operational costs to the operators, and reduced workload for controllers and pilots for possible adoption and implementation.
It is a concept of providing air traffic services in which an operator can choose their route subject to only a few limitations like fixed entry and exit points and the need to avoid danger areas, TRAs or TSAs) as opposed to the situation where standard airways should be used.
In most cases, the straight line between an entry point and an exit point will be chosen. If for some reason this is not appropriate like. a dangerous area needs to be avoided, additional turning points can be specified.
These can be navigational aids, published navigational points or points with specified coordinates.
The introduction of FRA in Europe is a step-by-step process rather than a single act. Most states have decided to start with a limited implementation (e.g. during night hours) and then gradually expand it.
By the end of 2022, most European countries have implemented FRA at least partially (but mostly on H24 basis). Also, there are many cross-border implementations, i.e. more than one ACC participating in a FRA initiative.
Consequently, in a bid to address challenges arising from the flow of air traffic between Flight Information Regions (FIRs), NAMA signed Letters of Agreement with ASECNA.
The agreement which was signed in Lagos at the end of a five-day coordination meeting with ASECNA officials from Lome and Cotonou sought to enhance air traffic coordination between the Lagos Area Control Centre (ACC) and Lome Area Control Centre as well as between Lagos ACC and Cotonou Approach Unit.
Specified in the Letters of Agreement were procedures for the separation of aircraft between the two ACCs in terms of radio frequencies, the point at which aircraft are transferred, and altitudes for transfer of aircraft across the common boundaries.
Also in the agreement were modalities for the coordination of air traffic along the newly created routes (UL255 and UN247) within Lome airspace terminating at POLTO.
The team from ASECNA was assured that issues with coordination and data interchange equipment like Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) and Air Traffic Services Message Handling Services (AMHS) would soon be surmounted with the ongoing deployment of the new VISAT 10.02 network.
The visiting ASECNA team also inspected navigational facilities at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, like the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) Site, control tower, mobile control tower at CENTREX, CAT III equipment as well as the newly installed Surface Movement Radar.
The Managing Director of NAMA, Tayib Odunowo expressed confidence that regional collaborations and synergy between adjacent FIRs were critical to the safety of the African sky.
Odunowo who was represented at the signing of the Letters of Agreement with ASECNA by the General Manager, of Air Traffic Control Operations, Mr. John Tayo said such collaborations would guarantee seamlessness of air traffic management as well as interoperability of Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance / Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) systems among states on the African continent.