“The Potential Benefits of GNSS Services in Africa Extend Beyond the Aviation Sector” – Semou Diouf

Semou Diouf, Director of the SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office.

The Satellite Navigation in Africa Support Programme III – Joint Programme Office’s mission [as a Pan African specialised entity] is to support the implementation of seamless and sustainable satellite navigation services in all sectors with aviation as the main driver.

Space in Africa had a chat with the Director of SatNav Africa JPO, Semou Diouf, to learn more about the company’s operations and plan for championing the development of satellite navigation (GNSS/SBAS) in Africa.

Can you briefly explain the objectives of the Satellite Navigation in Africa Support Programme III – Joint Programme Office?  

The Joint Programme Office (JPO) is a component of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) on regional integration and trade, aiming primarily to enhance safety in civil aviation by introducing satellite navigation in Africa. 

The JPO has undergone two maturity phases since its set up in December 2013. The first was to build relevant human capacity in the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) for an African team that lasted for two years. The subsequent Phase started in 2016 as a full-fledged continental-wide programme, championing the development of satellite navigation (GNSS/SBAS) in Africa based on European solutions [EGNOS technology] and new constellations such as Galileo.

Currently, the programme has two main operational objectives – to ensure the development of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and the implementation and adoption of Satellite Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) services across the African continent.

Can you briefly highlight your company’s key services, products, and achievements? 

As a Pan African programme, we would instead adopt the word “strategic domains of intervention” rather than services. JPO’s strategic areas of strategic intervention include support to GNSS/SBAS services Implementation, applications development; promotion and communication; training and capacity building; and R&D specific support services (future intervention project).

In addition, we support beneficiaries [for free] on GNSS/SBAS through technical assessments, economic analyses like cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and market studies, governance and institutional schemes for service delivery model, capacity building workshops and events on SBAS/GNSS awareness creation. 

Specifically, below are some key achievements of the Joint Programme Office to date:

  1. We conducted two important studies commissioned by the AUC regarding the survey and gap analysis of satellite navigation and positioning infrastructure and technologies in Africa.
  2. In terms of capacity building on GNSS, JPO has contributed to more than 12 GNSS/SBAS workshops across the five African regions, including interventions at CRASTE-LF GNSS Masters in Morocco and the University of Thies (Iba Der Thiam) in Senegal. 
  3. JPO also conducted economic assessments, notably for Eastern Africa and other user-defined business cases.  
  4. Regarding the GNSS market in Africa, JPO characterised and quantified the potential of GNSS applications in Africa for nine sectors, including agriculture, aviation, transport, land management, maritime safety, oil and mining industries, etc.
Since the start of the JPO in 2013, how have you been able to implement seamless satellite navigation solutions in the African aviation industry? 

To support the implementation of seamless satellite navigation solutions in the African aviation industry, JPO adopted an evolving strategy of providing the technical support and capacity building required for the benefit of regional and continental actors to ensure the potential gains from GNSS services are known in all regions. This strategy was backed up with consideration of the integration of SBAS into continental policies and planning.

Presently, the SBAS signal is not operational in Africa. However, live trials were conducted in 2021 with notable performances with the A-SBAS Programme led by the Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) via the NigComsat-1R satellite. Similarly, demonstrations held in Brazzaville in 2021, for instance, entailed the transmission of GNSS corrections based on CNES/Geoflex PPS technology using the A-SBAS signal. This approach showed the system’s ability to achieve positioning accuracy within centimetres across Africa. This satellite service paves the way for applications in various sectors, including precision agriculture, land and maritime transport, rail safety, drone navigation, mapping and surveying.

The seamless infrastructure solution covering all ASECNA member states is designed to be able to evolve toward a continental coverage in future.

Besides the aviation industry, which other sectors benefit from your strategic interventions? 

Besides the aviation sector, GNSS presents opportunities for downstream market development with sectoral applications spanning various other market segments. As I mentioned before, JPO characterised and quantified the potential of GNSS applications in Africa for nine sectors. In addition, multicriteria analysis has shown agriculture, maritime, and geo-information services are priority sectors for augmented services. In contrast, location-based services (LBS) have the biggest potential market for GNSS in general. Other sectors of interest include rail & road transport and cross-sectoral domains such as drones and the Internet of Things (IoT).

So, we have sufficiently established that the potential benefits of GNSS services in Africa extend beyond the aviation sector.

Apart from the support from the European Commission, which other organisations (both local and foreign) have you partnered with to enhance satellite navigation solutions in Africa? 

The Joint Programme Office has several partners involved in steering the agency’s activities.  JPO’s steering committee is co-chaired by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the European Commission (EC). At the same time, members include Regional Economic Communities (RECs/States), African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Arab Civil Aviation Organisation (ACAO), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA). 

AUC’s Department of Infrastructure and Energy (DIE) and the Department of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI) ensure the political ownership of this continental programme. Furthermore, AFCAC and ICAO ensure adherence to Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI) GNSS Strategy regarding GNSS and its augmentations (SBAS) as a solution to reaching the objectives of the Performance-Based Navigation (PBN). We have also established working agreements with most of the RECs (5) to ensure country-level and regional capacity building in GNSS and to collaborate on implementing JPO’s objectives. 

How has been the adoption and integration of SBAS into African policies and strategic planning? 

The adoption of SBAS has been driven by the Civil Aviation framework at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as one of the enablers to reaching the Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) objectives within the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP).

SBAS has been included in African Civil Aviation strategic planning and is considered in the “Prioritised Action Plan (Pillar 4)” to realise the Single African Sky Infrastructure and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). Similarly, the SBAS adoption at the continental level is conditioned to a cost-benefit analysis study under the authority of the African Union Commission (AUC) and AFCAC, which is nearly in its completion phase.  

Looking at the continental perspective, The SatNAv Africa Joint Programme Office fully supports one of the four pillars of the African space policy and strategy, “Positioning Navigation and Timing”, and is an essential instrument for improving safety in the domain of civil aviation through its support for the implementation of satellite navigation services in Africa.

What milestones have you recorded while building human capacities on GNSS/SBAS in Africa? 

The milestones/achievements in the human capacity building programmes are the manifestations of the implementation of various Memorandums of Cooperation/working arrangements (MoCs, Protocols of cooperation) with several African/ foreign partners. This allows the recipients to incorporate new training courses to enhance their GNSS training curricula. 

In terms of milestones, we can report that the JPO:

  • signed two MoUs with CRASTE-LF and ARCSSTE-E (two regional training institutions) on GNSS in Morocco and Nigeria;
  • signed an agreement with the University of Makerere (Uganda) to foster human capacity building in GNSS as part of the “Eastern African Academia and Research Centres”;
  • signed a working arrangement with Thiès University (Senegal) with the JPO as a partner for the development of its R&D projects, including Artificial Intelligence;
  • developed a panorama of GNSS training institutions in Africa; and
  • planned and implemented 12 capacity building activities for African countries.
Please tell us about the current workforce in your company?

JPO consists of a nominal team of ten experts (currently eight) from different African countries and regions, competitively recruited. Their expertise covers both technical, economic, legal, and managerial aspects of the JPO’s operation. After seven years of supporting African initiatives in various domains of satellite navigation, the JPO aims to play a critical role in implementing the continental vision on satellite navigation through its operationalisation under the African Union space framework.

What should the Africa space industry expect from you in 2022?

Throughout the rest of the year, we plan to:

  • support the assessment of GNSS for downstream markets;
  • support human capacity building with selected institutions;
  • support the AUC’s continental CBA study for SBAS under the Single African Air Transport Market’s Joint Prioritised Action Plan; 
  • foster more collaboration and partnerships among different regions/states actors for the seamless implementation of SBAS across Africa;
  • support the implementation phase of the A-SBAS Programme of ASECNA with a view to the first operational SBAS signal by 2025;
  • conduct outreach events to raise awareness about GNSS application beyond the aviation sector; 
  • develop synergies between EO projects (GMES and Africa and other initiatives) and Satellite Navigation;
  • create a more robust interaction with industry players, service providers, the African high-tech community and start-ups by increasing awareness of the possibilities of SBAS services, particularly with new constellations such as Galileo.

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