Civilian and military aircraft that take off in Brazil or fly through its airspace do so under the watchful eyes of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese). The mission falls under the Department of Airspace Control (DECEA, in Portuguese), the FAB unit responsible for civil and military air traffic control within the 22 million square kilometers under Brazilian jurisdiction—including land and maritime areas defined in international agreements.
DECEA plans, manages, and monitors activities relating to airspace control, aviation telecommunications, and coordination of Brazilian Aviation Search and Rescue Services. As the Airspace Control System’s main body, the department manages the airspace, implements air navigation procedures, alters air traffic, and assesses objects entering the airspace near airports.
FAB General Jeferson Domingues de Freitas, director of DECEA, said that to cover an area the size of a continent, five regional organizations work under the department: four integrated air defense and air traffic control centers in different parts of the country, and the Regional Flight Protection Service in São Paulo—responsible for the area with Brazil’s heaviest flow of air traffic. “Each of these regional sectors oversees the management of a certain portion of Brazilian airspace, both in terms of airspace defense and air traffic control, as well as Brazilian Aviation Search and Rescue,” Gen. Domingues said.
DECEA also has an oversight body to control the flow of air traffic—the Air Navigation Management Center—and an aerial mapping unit, the Institute of Aviation Cartography. These bodies are also responsible for project development related to airspace management.
Integrated air traffic control
A specific aspect of Brazilian air traffic control is the integrated operations of civil and military aviation. For Gen. Domingues, the advantage of working together is that civil and military controllers see all air traffic simultaneously, providing different situational awareness to maintain security and national sovereignty. “In addition to sharing equipment, infrastructure, and human resources, this integrated military and civilian control has a high level of rapid response to take action against illegal trafficking and initiate search and rescue operations,” he said.
Military operations centers and other bodies that control military air operations, through the application of Operational Military Circulation (COM, in Portuguese) rules, perform air traffic control services, flight information, aerial surveillance, and alert military aircraft on specific missions. Moreover, these bodies provide flight control during missions to police the airspace and during in-flight assistance missions as needed. “Military aircraft mostly fly under the General Air Circulation [CAG, in Portuguese] rules. When there is a need for flights within specific technical and operational parameters not served by CAG, the aircraft switch over to COM rules,” Gen. Domingues said.
Internationally certified quality
“As a result of its work, DECEA was certified by the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] in March 2018. The department and the Center for Investigation and Prevention of Aviation Accidents [of Brazil] were audited by ICAO and scored above 90 percent for adherence to responses required by more than 100 protocols applied, showing that Brazilian airspace has an excellent structure to ensure around the clock safety of civil aviation operations in Brazilian airspace,” Gen. Domingues said.
According to the general, the Brazilian government is part of ICAO Group I, to which the nations with the highest levels of operational safety belong. The Brazilian government is recognized as a committed follower of internationally used practices and recommendations. “In various areas, Brazil develops internal activities and is recognized as an implementer of best practices,” Gen. Domingues noted. “Through the implementation of management systems for air traffic services [ATS], the flow of air traffic, the adoption of systems and technologies to make aviation information services available, the use of advanced airspace management and planning techniques, and the use of datalink communications systems and ATS surveillance systems, DECEA is positioned to remain one of the world’s most modern airspaces and, consequently, one of the safest.”
An example of the management system is Performance Based Navigation (PBN), implemented in Brazil in 2009. According to FAB Major General Ary Rodrigues Bertolino, head of Operations at DECEA, this system ensures operational safety, capacity, efficiency, and accessibility, as well as a reduced environmental impact. “PBN can be explained as a set of navigation system requirements for in-flight aircraft and navigation specifications that allow an aircraft to fly in a specific airspace with fewer restrictions and diversions. As such, the aircraft can fly closer to its optimal flying zone, resulting in more efficient flights,” Maj. Gen. Bertolino said.
According to the officer, DECEA prioritized PBN implementation wherever its results could be seen most immediately and wherever aircraft would have navigation capabilities needed to fly according to these procedures. “We started in the cities of Brasília and Recife in 2010. Later, we brought this change to terminal management areas [TMA] of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 2013, and in late 2017, to the southern region, in the TMA of Porto Alegre, Santa Maria, Florianópolis, Foz do Iguaçu, Navegantes, and Curitiba. We also realigned routes between these TMA, which resulted in the largest airspace modification project in DECEA’s history, with more than 400 procedures published by the end of 2017,” Maj. Gen. Bertolino said.
The changes in PBN-South affected approximately 300,000 flights per year and reduced flight paths in the region by 1,430 miles, decreasing aircraft fuel consumption by 2,000 tons per year, according to information from the Brazilian Air Force News Agency. Maj. Gen. Bertolino stressed that the exact beneficial value for PBN-South is still in progress, since data collection and analysis of post-implementation indicators take nearly a year to be established.
“But we were already able to see the gains in terms of a reduced workload for controllers and pilots, and more direct routes, fewer restrictions on ascents and descents, and increased capacity in airspaces involved. Additionally, there was a reduction in fuel consumption, which results in lower gas and particulate matter emissions into the atmosphere,” Maj. Gen. Bertolino said. “The next steps will be PBN implementation at our northeastern TMA, which is planned for late 2019, and in the northern region in 2020 and 2021.”