The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation’s South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) consider this article by BusinessTech to be inaccurate, unfair and irresponsible and a serious breach of the Press Council’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, and have requested a correction and apology from BusinessTech.
The DST is mandated by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Act No. 21 of 2007 to manage and protect the declared Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Areas (KCAAAs).
The aviation industry, led by the Department of Transport (DOT), uses air space between OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport for scheduled and non-scheduled air traffic, some of which crosses over the KCAAAs.
On 15 December 2017, the Minister of Science and Technology published the final regulations on the protection of the declared KCAAAs. On 5 September 2018, the Minister published a notice determining the effective date of the KCAAA regulations to be 15 December 2018. The DOT and aviation industry were thoroughly consulted during the development and promulgation of the KCAAA regulations. The following is the wording which was inserted in the final KCAAA regulations after a thorough consultation with the DOT:
“with respect to aviation:
- These regulations are not applicable to aeronautical mobile, aeronautical radio-navigation and radiolocation services operating in the frequency bands allocated to these services in the National Radio Frequency Plan published by ICASA in terms of section 34(12) of the Electronic Communications Act (Act No. 36 of 2005).
- The measures necessary for the protection of the Karoo Core and Central Astronomy Advantage Areas, which shall be applicable to the aeronautical mobile, aeronautical radio-navigation and radiolocation services, and to the use of aircraft within the Karoo Core and Central Astronomy Advantage Areas, shall, after concurrence is reached between the Minister of Science and Technology and the Minister of Transport, be promulgated by the Minister of Transport and be administered and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority established in terms of Chapter 6 of the Civil Aviation Act, 2009 (Act No. 13 of 2009)”
The DST and NRF|SARAO wish to state that the relevant article published in BusinessTech contains information that is factually incorrect or inaccurate.
- “department spokesperson”: A large part of the article relies on information provided by an unnamed DST spokesperson nearly 14 months ago. Since that time, numerous engagements have taken place with the aviation sector, and are foreseen to continue to take place, with a view to understanding the impact of aviation activities on radio astronomy activities and to jointly seek ways to mitigate such impacts as far as practically possible. This does not imply diversion of air routes and it is irresponsible to report this to be the case.
- “introduction of a mobile dead zone”: The term “mobile dead zone” implies an area devoid of telecommunication services. The use of this term by the author of the article suggests a lack of understanding by the author of the content and intent of the referenced regulations as well as an over-reliance on inaccurate information. The regulations are designed to enable optimised management of the radio frequency spectrum, to provide for an appropriate environment to conduct radio astronomy observations, whilst still enabling access to essential telecommunication services. In fact, the DST has recently concluded a public participation process, where it was proposed that certain frequency bands be exempt from the strictest of the protection requirements. Spectrum typically used by mobile telecommunication services, including that of cell phones, has been included in that list.
- “extension of the regulations, and by inference the ‘dead zone’, to flight traffic”: The regulations are quite explicit on this matter. Section 2(2) of Schedule A of the referenced regulations indicate that the regulations in question are NOT applicable to radio communication services utilised by aviation.
- “regulations require planes to travel at 18,500m”: There is no truth whatsoever in this statement.
- Image: “map of the ‘dead zone”: The map of the so-called “dead zone” does not correlate with the declared astronomy geographic advantage area for which the regulations apply. It is also unclear how the figure of 20% reduction in cell phone coverage was arrived at.
- “said Chris Zeigerthal of the South African Civil Aviation Authority.”: Mr Chris Zweigenthal is Chief Executive of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa and does not represent the South African Civil Aviation Authority.
The relationship between the DST and DOT as representatives of the astronomy and aviation sectors has always been one of open communication and information exchange, and the two departments are currently finalising the Memorandum of Agreement which will ensure that both sectors co-exist without causing harmful interference to each other.
Issued by the Department of Science and Technology and NRF|SARAO