LEADERS in the aviation industry are concerned about the long-term impact the Karoo-based SKA project (Square Kilometre Array) would have on air travel in one of the busiest air corridors in the world between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

SKA is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope in the Karoo.

At a media briefing in Johannesburg on July 11, Iata DG, Alexandre de Juniac, raised concerns about the project, saying it could mean that air travel would be disallowed in the protected area, forcing flights to take lengthy and expensive detours. He told the media that SKA project staff had even asked the aviation industry why they couldn’t “just turn off their radios” when flying in the astronomy advantage areas.

The commencement of the ‘quiet zone’ in the astronomy advantage area is fast approaching in December this year.

Plane Talking MD, Linden Birns, says at least 40 to 55 domestic flights fly over the astronomy advantage area every day – including Johannesburg- Cape Town flights. “If there are significant detours to avoid the area, it would increase the costs of flights enormously,” he says. “It would have a devastating effect on business and South Africa’s economy.”

Airlines Association of South Africa CEO, Chris Zweigenthal, shared Linden’s sentiments. “We’re dealing with a great deal of uncertainty,” he says.

Dr Adrian Tiplady, head of Strategy and Business Processes at the SKA project, says no SKA staff member has asked the aviation industry just to “turn off their radios”, adding the Iata dg “may not be fully informed of all the processes” regarding consultations between the aviation industry and SKA.

He says, while mitigation measures regarding aviation’s effect on the project need to be decided on, it was an extreme example to say that flights would have to be detoured. “We are currently in the process of assessing air travel’s impact on the telescope. That doesn’t mean there will be detours, but it could mean different operational strategies for aviation.”

“Our concern, though, is that this needs to be resolved. Time marches on, and the commencement date of the project is coming closer,” says Chris. Both Chris and Linden stress the need for a meeting with SKA to discuss the technical implications for aviation.