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Cablegate: Lack of Air Traffic Control Oversight Raises Safety

VZCZCXRO8930
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #3667/01 3181139
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 141139Z NOV 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3179
RHMFIUU/COMUSCENTAF SHAW AFB SC
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAHQA/HQ USAF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO BRUSSELS BE
RXFPSHK/ISAF HQ
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL 0001
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHINGTON DC 0147
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE 0001
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC 0001

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 003667

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED ADDRESSEES AND PASS LINES)

MONTREAL PASS TO USMISSION ICAO
SECDEF PASS TO COMCENT COM
DOT FOR SUSAN KURLAND, ACTING A/S FOR AVIATION
AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EEB/TRA, S/SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/RA, SCA/A
DEPT PASS FAA FOR RAY SMITH
USMISSION NATO FOR SECRETARY GENERAL, DI/ADAM
ISAF FOR HQ ISAF/CC AND ISAF IJC
USAF PASS TO USAFCENT A3, AUAB AFFOR A3, HQ AFFSA//A3//,
ACC DO, ACCE-A

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: EAIR PGOV AF
SUBJECT: LACK OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL OVERSIGHT RAISES SAFETY
CONCERNS: A PROPOSAL FOR A UNIFIED AIRSPACE AUTHORITY

REF: (A) 09 Kabul 2694
(B) 09 Kabul 2667

KABUL 00003667 001.6 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: Afghanistan's air traffic has grown by 67 percent
over the past year, outstripping its antiquated, procedural-based
air traffic control system and a surveillance system that covers
only a small fraction of its airspace. Joint airspace use by
commercial and combat flights without up-to-date technology and
active coordination between separate controlling entities has led to
immediate safety and efficiency concerns for combat forces and
commercial passengers alike. A new USAID-funded radar at Kabul
International Airport (KIA) will enhance safety, and a German-funded
surveillance system coming on line in 2010 will improve airspace
control.

2. (SBU) However, the current system of air traffic flow management
does not address the need for an organized assignment of takeoff and
landing slots at KIA and raises serious concerns about air traffic
safety. We encourage the U.S. Combined Forces Air Component
Commander (CFACC), as the designated Airspace Control Authority for
Afghanistan, in coordination with Ministry of Transportation and
Civil Aviation (MOTCA), to establish a dedicated airspace and air
traffic authority. In addition to enhancing safety, a unified
system will promote increased efficiency and expand economic growth
in Afghanistan. End summary.

Afghanistan's Airspace: Many Uses, Many Restrictions
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3. (SBU) CFACC has delegated to multiple agencies and nations the
authority to manage different portions of Afghan airspace, creating
potential for gaps between responsible authorities. Few Afghan
nationals are involved in managing the country's valuable and busy
airspace. AFCENT manages (through a contractor) approach control at
Bagram, Kabul, and Kandahar air fields, as well as control of all
flights above 2,500 feet. At KIA, the country's main commercial
airport, air traffic tower controllers from ISAF member states
rotate through in six-month tours. Additionally, MOTCA contracts
the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to train Afghan
tower air traffic controllers at KIA tower, where they currently
perform their job in a supervised environment.

4. (SBU) While procedural air traffic control is within ICAO
standards, it creates efficiency and economic challenges for
airlines. No air traffic controller has radar views of airspace
above 16,500 feet, meaning they must rely on radio communication
with aircraft, including the thousands of flights that transit
Afghan airspace on international routes. These flights stay above
29,000 feet, while flights that originate or terminate in
Afghanistan must stay below this altitude. Modern jets are
engineered to perform best at altitudes above 30,000 feet, meaning
they are less fuel efficient, and thus more expensive to operate, at
the lower altitude to which they are restricted. Improvements are
being made. The German government is funding an 11.6 million Euro
Multilateral system radar (MLAT) that will be operational in
December 2010. COMUSAFCENT is integrating existing radar and future
MLAT data into a new Kabul Air Center Control (KACC) facility that
will provide control over higher levels of airspace.


Traffic Collision Avoidance Alarms Are a Growing Concern
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5. (SBU) Joint usage of Afghanistan's airspace by combat flights
controlled by air battle managers (not air traffic controllers)
remains a challenge for commercial carriers. Controllers for
military and civilian aircraft coordinate to transition aircraft
through each other's designated airspace. Unless carefully
coordinated, or in the absence of appropriate procedural controls,
this practice would be inherently dangerous. COMAFCENT has
identified this area of concern, and directed the control
authorities to improve tactics, techniques, and procedures and
upgrade inter-agency communication. However, further improvements
are needed in order to reduce risk and improve efficiencies.

6. (SBU) Many military aircraft operate in Afghanistan airspace

KABUL 00003667 002.6 OF 003


without reliable coordination with civilian air traffic control and
often cross or approach civilian air routes. Commercial aircraft
are equipped with Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) devices
that warn of potential collisions. In the first ten months of 2009,
pilots reported 93 incidents to KACC in which their TCAS warning
sounded in the cockpit, requiring them to take action. Of those 93
incidents, 53 involved both civilian and military aircraft, and in
eight, aircraft appear to have been operating outside of
Afghanistan's regulatory procedures.

Air Traffic Control: First-Come, Best Served
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

7. (SBU) Unlike most countries, Afghanistan does not have an air
traffic control flow management authority for its overall airspace
or at KIA. CFACC is the Airspace Control Authority, but air traffic
controllers have different chains of command, as well as safety and
oversight standards, depending on the NATO nation providing the
service. There is also a lack of coordinated communication and
common automation system between air traffic control facilities.
For example, a commercial plane departing from KIA, bound for Dubai,
receives clearance to take off and ascend above 2,500 feet from KIA
air traffic controllers. The controllers, however, are not aware of
air space congestion en route (for example, near Kandahar, Central
Asia's busiest airport) or weather conditions at other airports.
Bad weather often slows takeoffs and landings at KIA, but KIA
controllers have no mechanism to notify aircraft until they are
nearby. The planes must then circle overhead (sometimes for hours).
In order to improve service, efficiency, and safety, AFCENT is
working with NATO nations to develop a standardization agreement
that will create common processes, procedures, terms, and conditions
for all nations that provide air traffic control to be completed in
the next year.

Air Traffic Management at Kabul International Airport
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8. (SBU) Air traffic management at KIA is an additional problem.
Most commercial flights depart between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., along with
dozens of flights operated by military contractors, the United
Nations and U.S. Government agencies. All flights departing from
KIA must transit Bagram airspace, meaning they often cannot take off
if military flights are nearby. Flight plans are poorly
coordinated -- controllers at KIA do not know the next day's flight
schedule in advance and often are not aware of a flight until the
pilot requests engine start clearance.

9. (SBU) This lack of central coordination and flow management has
also resulted in constant, lengthy delays of up to two hours on the
taxiway at KIA. In one incident, passengers on a Pamir Air flight
threatened the flight crew, who called in customs and ISAF police
for assistance. Police ultimately removed all passengers from the
plane and cancelled the flight. Executives at other airlines
acknowledge most morning flights are delayed due to air traffic
congestion.

Comment
- - - -

10. (SBU) CFACC has supported numerous actions to improve air
traffic services within Afghanistan, including the installation and
operation of the new Kabul radar and approach control facility, and
has partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to train
Afghan controllers at KIA and KACC. AFCENT has also assessed KIA
and launched efforts to improve airport flight planning and
scheduling, regional airspace design, and standardization of airport
and air traffic control. Currently slated for completion in the
next few years, AFCENT's construction of a new, semi-permanent
facility for Kabul Area Control Center will integrate existing
radars at Bagram, Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar, thereby leading the
way to the creation of an MLAT system that presents a true, robust
picture of Afghanistan's airspace.

11. (SBU) But while we recognize AFCENT's efforts and the need for
partnership to develop Afghanistan's air traffic system, we believe
more needs to be done. We encourage CFACC, in coordination with

KABUL 00003667 003.6 OF 003


MOTCA, to establish a dedicated airspace and air traffic authority
as soon as possible. This organization would consolidate
responsibility for doctrine, policy, standardization, oversight and
integration of all aspects of Afghan air traffic management to
support combat and civil aircraft operations. It will also help us
develop a long-term plan to hand over airspace control to Afghan
authorities and accelerate efforts to upgrade Afghanistan's air
traffic system under post's requested $140 million assistance
package.

EIKENBERRY

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