The Belize Department of Civil Aviation celebrated International Civil Aviation Day with a very special opening of their new second floor facilities of their headquarters in Ladyville. They are now better able to manage Belize’s airspace, thanks to a 13 million dollar donation from the Central American Corporation of Air Navigation Services (COCESNA).

COCESNA has paid for the infrastructure cost to construct the office, and they have also purchased a modern, state of the art, radar control center that makes up majority of the 13 million dollar price tag. The aviation experts say that it is well worth it because it brings Belize’s monitoring and control of our airspace to the standards as those in the most developed nations in the world.

[Linked Image] Lindsay Garbutt, the Director of the Civil Aviation Department, told the press, “Aviation like most other technologies keep advancing…The equipment you find here you would find in any first world country… We have been spending over the last 3 years around $400,000 a year just in capacity building for our staff and particularly for air traffic controllers… Now that we have well-trained staff and first class equipment, obviously that means a safer air space and better air space management.”

Martha Hinkson, the Chief Air Traffic Controller at the Department of Civil Aviation walked the visitors and the press through their process of directing international flights that enter Belize airspace with the intention of landing at the Philip Goldson International Airport.

Before such a flight takes off, the aircraft operators are expected to file what is known as a flight plan. This plan is sent to Belize well ahead of the flight’s arrival time, sometimes up to 2 hours early. For example, once the flight leaves US airspace, Merida’s air traffic controllers, which is the adjacent unit to Belize’s air traffic control, will send information of the flight. Belize’s air traffic controllers then take over responsibility for such a flight.

By that time, the aircraft should already be showing up on their new state-of-the-art radar system. For that to happen however, planes have to be equipped with a transponder, also known as a secondary surveillance radar. It also has to be turned on so that the equipment can communicate with each other.

So, once the flight shows up on the new radar, the Belizean air traffic controllers will be prepared to take over the duties to properly direct the pilot to land. He will be given information such as weather updates, and restrictions on decent and air speed, if necessary. As the aircraft approaches the airport, the air traffic controller will start providing the pilot with information they call “vectoring”. These are information that the pilot will use to steer the aircraft at different angles and turns, in order for the plane to be lined up with the runway for a safe landing.

An air traffic controller has no room for error, since the lives of the passengers in the plane are at stake. So, fellow air traffic controllers on duty act as a secondary checking system on their peers to ensure that if an erroneous direction was sent to the pilot, quick corrections can be made.

The Civil Aviation Department says that Belize’s airspace is one of the busiest in Central America. Lindsay Garbutt told the press, “We have the busiest air space in Central America. Not the busiest as far as international flights is concerned, but we have well over 100,000 local flights a year… and we are responsible for managing that.”

Readers may know that COCESNA, which has paid the 13 million dollars for this upgrade at the Civil Aviation Department Headquarters, is a company owned by 6 member nations, including Belize. All 6 nations manage their airspaces as a collective, and all the resources that go into COCESNA are shared equitably by all the member states. That means that upgrades like this one will be present in at the Civil Aviation Departments in all those countries very soon.

The public got this chance to see this upgrade on Friday, December 8, during the Department’s observance of International Civil Aviation Day. It was celebrated globally under the theme, “Working Together To Ensure No Country Is Left Behind”.

The Guardian