ATM Modernization

Albania’s Herculean Advance for the Olympic Games

By David Jensen | May 1, 2003
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Albania is about to embark on a comprehensive air traffic management (ATM) modernization effort, in part to accommodate the anticipated spike in air travel to neighboring Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games. Its air traffic service provider, Agjensia Nacionale Trafikut Ajror (ANTA), has awarded Lockheed Martin Air Traffic Management a $33-million contract to provide new surveillance radar, navigation and landing aids, communications equipment, and the U.S. company’s SkyLine automated ATM system. The UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which operates Lockheed Martin equipment in Scotland and at its New En Route Centre at Swanwick, has been subcontracted to share with ANTA its expertise in air traffic management.

The project is the first of its kind to be commercially financed in Albania. Lockheed Martin is assisting ANTA in obtaining commercial financing. Following a competitive tender conducted by Lockheed Martin, ANTA selected BNP Paribas to be the lender. Officials in the Balkan nation hope it will encourage further international commercial investment there.

To say this ATC modernization effort will represent a giant step forward for this small, Massachusetts-sized country would be an understatement.

Humble Beginning

In October 1989, less than three years before it shed communist rule, Albania established its first ATC system. It cost just $261, according to Douglas Spragg, chief executive officer of UK-based SAL Consultants. SAL, which was established in 1985 under the name Shrives Associates Ltd., was instrumental in acquiring a used VHF radio for the airport at the capital city of Tiranë.

"Before that, they barely had anything," says Spragg. ANTA "did have an NDB and runway lights, which didn’t work when it rained because they shorted out," he adds. These served the few commercial flights into Albania by Swissair and airlines in the former East Bloc countries.

At Tiranë’s Rinas Airport–now called Mother Theresa Airport, after the native, Catholic nun who dedicated her life to humanitarian care in Calcutta–there existed a center on each side of the runway, one for the military and the other for civil air operations. They communicated with handheld FM radios, says Spragg. When a military aircraft (usually a Mig 19) was set for an approach, the military center’s personnel would inform the civil center, and the civil center would do the same for the military center when a civil aircraft was incoming, says Spragg. That about summed up Albania’s initial air traffic control.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), understandably, saw room for improvement. Albania became a member of ICAO in April 1991. ICAO conducted a countrywide audit and said Albania must have primary radar installed, and it recommended that the military and civil centers be joined into one center at Mother Theresa Airport.

Gaining a Radar System

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) agreed to assist ANTA by collecting its overflight fees. It collected $100 per overflight, and within two years, ANTA accumulated some $2 million, enough to launch an upgrade program.

Again, SAL Consultants assisted ANTA. The firm secured, as a gift from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, a Plessey ACR 430 short-range (30-nautical mile) radar that had been used at the Sumburgh airfield, on the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland. It was installed near Mother Theresa Airport in 1995. ANTA also acquired VHF radios and recording equipment and a radar display system from Flight Refuelling Ltd., Dorset, UK, according to Spragg.

The Plessey primary radar was to initiate the consolidation of the civil and military centers into a single center. But, as luck would have it, this did not occur.

A Giant Bird Nest

Unrest broke out in Albania, as well as in neighboring Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In March 1997, the United Nations authorized a 7,000-member force to restore order in the region. U.S. forces taking part in the peacekeeping mission constructed a helipad at Mother Theresa Airport and in doing so, inadvertently tore up the cable linking the radar with the display processor in the center.

"The primary radar is defunct," says Spragg. "For the last four or five years, birds have been nesting in it."

In July 1998, Albania became the 37th member of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), and Eurocontrol subsequently proposed sweeping changes to the country’s air traffic services in a 10-year master plan, which its government endorsed in October 2000. The plan covers such issues as self-funding, air traffic forecasting, airspace management, regulations, human resources and establishing an ATM/CNS (communication, navigation and surveillance) infrastructure. It covered "all aspects of civil aviation in Albania, except for Mother Theresa Airport, which has its own master plan.

In 2001, ANTA purchased a secondary surveillance radar produced by Alenia Marconi Systems (now AMS). It remains operational but, of course, does not detect the military aircraft that are not equipped with transponders.

Albania clearly was due for an ATC equipment upgrade, especially considering that Eurocontrol anticipates a 30 percent increase in air traffic in and out of Greece, located across Albania’s southeast border, because of the Olympic Games.

Indeed, a boost in traffic already has become apparent, as Albania logged 67,224 civilian overflights in 2001 and 73,346 in 2002, a 9 percent increase. As the country’s economy develops, Mother Theresa Airport probably will see the number of arrivals and departures escalate, as well, from the 9,957 in 2002.

Complete Modernization

During the first phase of its four-year contract, Lockheed Martin ATM will establish an initial radar control capability in Albania for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. This will mean converting from a procedural airspace environment (using pilot position reports) to a radar environment by securing adequate radar coverage. Such coverage will allow the lateral separation of aircraft flying en route to be reduced eventually from 80 nautical miles (nm) to 10 nm, according to Patrick Buckley, Lockheed Martin ATM’s director of European programs.

The manufacturer’s plans for a radar environment in Albania by May 2004 are to initially employ the secondary radar at Tiranë and the radar in Skopje, Macedonia. "We will work to also tie in the radars in Brindisi [Italy] and Kerkira [Greece]," Buckley adds.

In addition, the first phase of Albania’s modernization effort will include installing "the initial increment" of the SkyLine system in the existing civil ATC center. This will be done in time to provide radar control of the increased overflight traffic associated with the 2004 Summer Olympics. The initial system will include four consoles to monitor upper sector and lower sector airspace, says Buckley.

Room for Expansion

Phase 2 will proceed by installing a new primary radar near Tiranë and an ILS at Mother Theresa Airport. The navigation package will be rounded out with two VOR/DME systems installed in the country. Their locations will be determined by a navigational study, which also is part of phase 2. For communications, Lockheed will provide additional VHF radios plus a repeater station. This will provide more communications coverage, which will be vital, should Albania decide to further divide its upper and lower sectors to create a third sector.

Lockheed Martin also will supply UHF radios for communications with military aircraft. There remains a plan to combine the military and civil centers at Mother Theresa Airport, but that will be "long term," says Buckley.

ANTA plans to co-locate the area control center and ATC tower at Tiranë’s airport. The SkyLine system–which can be used for en route, area, terminal and tower ATC–will be installed in both facilities. The system uses commercial off-the-shelf hardware and provides radar data processing with multisensor tracking and advanced flight data processing.

When the facility at Mother Theresa Airport becomes operational (scheduled for 2006), it will have a minimum of seven workstations: two for the military, two for upper airspace control, two for lower airspace control, and one for approach and departure control. A competition will determine the source of the facilities’ voice communications switch.

"We will have space and power in the area control center to accommodate expansion," says Buckley, "because Albania expects to build two new airports, in the north and south of the country."

NATS’ Key Role

NATS plays a key role in Albania’s modernization effort. It will help restructure airspace and link the Albanian air traffic system to other airports in the region through radar sharing. NATS will provide input for the requirements for a new tower and control center, which will be constructed under Lockheed Martin’s management. The UK firm also will help define the new facilities’ training needs, as well as provide some training for ANTA’s controllers and engineers. In addition, it will supply ANTA with air traffic forecasts and operational assessments.

In addition to a comprehensive new ATM system, Albania soon will have a new overflight fee collection agency. On July 1, 2003, Eurocontrol will assume that responsibility.

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