The South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal, geographically divided by the Indochina peninsula and connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, are not only crowded with the steady stream of marine transportation on the vast high seas, but they are also congested by the international cargo routes in the air over them. In recent decades there has been a rapid growth of air traffic in these two oceanic airspaces. This kind of growth in both scale and complexity raised concerns among all air traffic stakeholders, calling for joint efforts to improve air navigation services and optimize air traffic management performance.
The two homogenous airspaces face similar difficulties that are mainly caused by the same geographical constraints, which means the high-density ATS routes traverse over the remote oceanic environments that lack air traffic services (ATS) surveillance and DCPC VHF communication coverage. The imbalance between service demand and communications, navigation and surveillance systems for air traffic management (CNS/ATM) capacity has been highlighted and needs to be rectified with multiple solutions due to traffic density, weather deviations, and contingency responses. Besides, the uneven development among ANSPs in these regions also results in air traffic congestion, delays, extra fuel burn, and consequent harmful environmental effects.
Accordingly, two ad hoc focus groups were formed by APANPIRG, namely, The South China Sea Traffic Flow Review Group (SCSTFRG) and the Bay of Bengal Traffic Flow Review Group (BOBTFRG). Established in 2015, the SCSTFRG meeting has met ten times, and BOBTFRG has met four times since 2018. The two groups report outcomes and recommendations to their common parent body, the South Asia, India Ocean, and Southeast Asia ATM Coordination Group (SAIOSEACG).
By joining the efforts of concerned air navigation service providers, international organizations, and airspace users (usually represented by IATA), with consistent proactive and pragmatic hard work, the two Review Groups have successfully built partnering relationships among States within the sub-regions and catalyzed gradual processes of capability enhancements and service improvements. Especially in promoting PBCS implementation to support the utilization of Performance-Based separations; facilitating CNS facility augmentation from the ground or space-based solutions; as well as supporting piloting initiatives to be trialed by taking advantage of the low traffic period, much substantial progress has been achieved to enhance the efficiency and capacity without compromising the safety.
In the foreseeable future, despite ongoing challenges and severe damages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the growth trend of air traffic will likely continue. Given the urgent need to ensure more efficient ATM systems to support the recovery of the aviation industry, the two Review Groups will continuously optimize mechanisms and enhance collaboration, strive to better joint efforts, build consensus, focus on common goals, and leave no one behind.