AFAFRICA expands partnership with Rwanda

by Maj. Paula Kurtz
17th Air Force Public Affairs

KIGALI, Rwanda — U.S. Air Forces Africa conducted a military-to-military engagement with Rwandan Air Force air traffic controllers April 20 to 24 to expand on the two nations’ existing partnership.

Seventeenth Air Force planners (AFAFRICA) from the plans and programs directorate organized the Theater Security Cooperation event as a follow-up to the March 24 to 26 senior leader engagement visit to Rwanda by Brig. Gen. Mike Callan, AFAFRICA vice commander.

During that visit, discussions between senior leaders focused on developing a plan for the future for Rwanda’s air traffic control program.

“This was a great opportunity to capitalize on the discussions that took place between General Callan and the Rwandan Defense Force officials,” said Maj. Blake Smith, deputy director, Theater Security Cooperation branch for AFAFRICA.
Without assigned forces that have the necessary expertise in air traffic control, Major Smith reached out to two members of the North Carolina Air National Guard who have worked extensively on both the military and civilian sides of ATC operations. Col. Robert McGrath and Chief Master Sgt. Robert Fort, both from the 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, N.C., ANG, traveled to Kigali to assess the existing ATC program and recommend a future plan.

“The Rwandan’s ultimate goal is to make Rwanda an ‘air hub’ by providing world-class ATC services and to expand their ATC operations where they can implement a fee-for-service program and ultimately make revenue with their ATC program,” Colonel McGrath said.

The Rwandan visit began with a tour of the ATC facilities, including the air control tower at Kigali International Airport and a separate radar site, in addition to meeting with civil aviation and airport officials to determine what level of planning is already underway for the dual-use ATC operations, which accommodate both military and civil aviation traffic.

“This was really a validation of the efforts underway on the civilian side by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and that a steering committee already exists to oversee implementation of a new ATC system,” Colonel McGrath said. “Because this is a dual-use operation, many of the controllers who run ATC operations as civilians are also in the Rwandan Air Force and receive their initial ATC training in Kenya or Tanzania. Our job was to determine the skill level of the controllers and determine how we can best help them build on the basic fundamentals to reach their ultimate goal.”

Colonel McGrath and Chief Fort met with a group of 24 Rwandan controllers to discuss current training procedures, the basic fundamentals of Air Control Center operations and the vision for Rwanda’s future in ATC.

“Just to be here, to see the facilities, and to be a part of something from the ground level is really special,” Chief Fort said. “For the future, their main focus needs to be training. They have basic approach control training, but not Air Control Center training. They have the energy and the vision and they want to learn – it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Second Lt. Anthony Mpagaze, an air traffic controller in the Rwandan Air Force and chief of communications at the Kigali airport in his civilian capacity, along with three of his counterparts in the Royal Air Force, visited Ramstein in February 2008.