Flights between Joburg and Cape Town could become much longer due to new regulations

The introduction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in the Northern Cape may have a direct impact on South African flight times.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with plans to eventually have over a square kilometre of collecting area.

Because of this, the Department of Science and Technology has introduced a number of regulations to prevent outside interference from impacting the SKA’s activities.

This extends to flight traffic according to the Rapport, with many flights travelling directly over the area expected to be diverted.

This is expected to make the trip between the two cities longer and more expensive for air travellers.

While the SKA regulations make special dispensation for aviation, this matter has still not been clarified, said Chris Zweigenthal of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA).

Zweigenthal said that one way around the regulations would be that planes travel at 18,500 metres. However, he noted that the maximum height for most commercial airlines is 11,900 metres.

Adrian Tiplady of the SKA said that the group was busy working on a solution but added that it was vital that the telescope was not subject to any external interference.

Mobile ‘dead zone’

Speaking to BusinessTech in February 2018, the Department of Science and Technology confirmed that it plans to restrict the use of certain radio frequency spectrum and certain radio activities in areas that it deems to be “advantageous to astronomy”.

A department spokesperson explained that the decision was made to restrict certain frequencies as radio communication transmissions and electromagnetic radiation may interfere with the reception of cosmic signals if not managed correctly.

“Hence, the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Act requires the Minister to promulgate the regulations that will prohibit and restrict the use of certain radio frequency spectrum within the declared Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Areas,” he said.

He explained that the entirety of the Northern Cape Province (excluding Sol Plaatje Municipality), was declared by the minister as an Astronomy Advantage Area (AAA) on the 5th of February 2009 because it has features suitable for Astronomy and related scientific activities.

The department said that radio and television reception will not be affected because FM radio signal use frequencies outside spectrum bands of MeerKAT and SKA telescope, whereas alternative solutions were provided for television viewing.

However, the department said that cellphone reception in towns within the declared KCAAA will not be affected, while the cellphone signal strength will decrease in the territory where each telescope receiver and farmhouses are very close to the telescope will be affected.

“Before any change is made to the cellphone signal alternative solutions will be provided for high-speed broadband internet connectivity and mobile voice communications service,” it said.

A number of farmers had previously voiced concerns about the dead-zone, reports Nature.com, with concerns primarily focusing on what the decreased signal will do to the local economy.

The report also notes that the affected areas is larger than expected, with six towns falling under the dead-zone.

Below is an adapted map of the affected areas by Nature.com, showing areas where mobile-phone coverage could be reduced by 20% or more.

Update: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Chris Zweigenthal as being from the South African Civil Aviation Authority. This has been corrected to his role as Chief Executive Officer of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA).


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Flights between Joburg and Cape Town could become much longer due to new regulations