Winter visitors should expect flight delays

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Passengers flying into Antigua in the upcoming winter season should be prepared for delays in the landing of planes if air traffic controllers here don’t get a new aircraft navigation system.
The Guild of Antigua and Barbuda Air Traffic Controllers (GABATCO) told OBSERVER media that the Very High Frequency Omni-Directional Range (VOR) at the V. C. Bird International Airport has been down since around July.
The air traffic controllers said the piece of equipment is pivotal to guiding the plane into the airport for landing and in its absence, controllers have had to use antiquated technology to guide planes safely to the runway.
“We are without a primary navaid. We are using a non-directional beacon [NDB] which is a less accurate and it is posing some problems because the modern aircraft that fly into V. C. Bird don’t have that equipment onboard. That old equipment is being phased out around the world, but, we still have one,” GABATCO said.
The term navaid is derived from navigational aid and was first used in 1956. It is a device or system (such as a radar beacon) that provides a navigator with navigational data.
The air traffic controllers said the non-functioning VOR was commissioned over 30 years ago. The technicians have told GABATCO that it can no longer be repaired and must be replaced.
“It failed its flight check. Periodically, they [the manufacturer of the equipment] would do a flight check on it and it failed so it will eventually have to be taken offline. This is done routinely throughout the world as a required set of standards and integrity,” GABATCO said.
The body said the government is aware of the situation, however, there are concerns in light of annual bumper airlifts in and out of Antigua during the winter season.
“The equipment is very inaccurate in terms of providing separation between aircraft in the sky and if we do not have that facility then there is no way we can accurately know where aircraft are in the sky. That is also what the aircraft used for the approach to get them down for landing.
“The fact that we do not have our primary navaid and we are using an older, less reliable one then what we are anticipating for the tourist season is excessive delays. During tourist season we implement flow control because we do not have a radar that we have been quarreling over for years, now, we are using something that is totally unreliable,” GABATCO said.  
The air traffic controller lamented that the technology is retrogressing in terms of what is being offered at the new airport terminal to guide planes to land. 
The body said the NDB is being operated with no backup power and it will not work during a thunderstorm.
GABACTO said this was amongst a list of issues outlined in letters dispatched to the government and they are now awaiting acknowledgment and a response.
Yesterday, OBSERVER media tried without success for a second day to contact a government official to respond to the issues outlined by the air traffic controllers. Further attempts will be made today.

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