Some South Africans were left startled when reports over the weekend claimed that the flight time between Cape Town and Johannesburg could be extended, due to a scientific build in the Northern Cape.
A vastly-expensive star-gazing project is currently undergoing development in the Carnarvon region. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is nearing completion and will add one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world to its already-impressive collection.
How will the SKA telescope potentially affect flight times?
While seeking answers to questions about the behaviour of the cosmos, the sprawling network of gizmos and gadgets will require a “mobile dead zone”. This would effectively mean no other electronic devices would be allowed to operate in the area and it is believed this poses a threat to our local airlines.
Carnarvon is directly underneath the Cape Town to Johannesburg flight path. It’s a route that services tens of thousands of people every day. The need for a dead zone is therefore incompatible for our planes, which rely on a series of electronic communications to stay airborne.
Cape Town to Johannesburg route under scrutiny
When we spoke with aviation officials on Monday, they were somewhat cagey about the prospect of having to switch flight routes. Neither FlySafair nor the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) would actually rule out the possibility of planes having to alter their travel plans, thus extending the duration of flight times between the two cities.
But after a good sleep and a few phone calls, the ATNS have come back with a decisive answer. Percy Morokane is their external communications officer, and he has categorically denied that the SKA research project will have any bearing on the way flights operate in South Africa:
“We have regular interactions with both the Department of Science & Technology as well as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) management. It is important to note that the current regulations do not apply to Aviation activities.”
“We are all ready to develop another set of regulations that will ensure that aviation and SKA co-exist. We are confident that we will find each other somewhere. Therefore, we do not anticipate any delays at this point in time.”
That’ll be music to the ears of our more frequent commuters, some of whom make the journey from north-to-south and back multiple times a week. Not only would a longer flight time be disruptive, but the need to use more fuel would eventually drive up ticket prices, too.
Morokane may have just hinted that not all issues have been ironed out, though. He maintained that aviation authorities and SKA maintain a good relationship, but conceded that technical solutions may still be required:
“We are confident that the South African Industry Aviation Industry Agencies and SKA will co-exist and therefore we do not expect any disruptions to air traffic operations. If the two cannot co-exist, we will have to look at other options at our disposal, such as technical solutions, without disrupting any of the two.”
Thankfully, there’s a clue in the name of the project: The Square Kilometre Array is exactly what it claims to be. The grand network of monitoring equipment will occupy 1000 square metres. It doesn’t cover a devastatingly large surface area, meaning that any adjustment to the flight path could be extremely minute.
The quest to reach for the stars has cost billions of rand to implement. The NC is certainly a stargazers dream, and its appeal has turned a small rural area into a major astronomical base.
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