HAMNET Report 31st December 2023

Extreme weather in the forms of storms and heavy rainfall in the eastern half of the country has seen the forecast I mentioned of floods in the Newcastle region last week almost take place.

But it wasn’t Newcastle that bore the brunt, it was Ladysmith in northern KZN, where mopping up operations are still taking place. At least 14 people have been identified as killed by the floods, but there are at least 10 still missing, and their names are likely to be added to the list of lost souls after rescue work is over. The rain and flooding started on Christmas Eve, and now, a full week later, the tragedies of lost family members are still unfolding.

With roads from KZN back in the general direction of Gauteng Province starting to get busier this coming week, we don’t need more extreme weather to make those roads more treacherous, and the drivers lose their skills.

There is a saying here in the Western Cape that, when it rains, as it does all winter, people forget how to drive safely. I hope the same isn’t true of the rest of the country.

Talking of water and flooding, I wonder how many of you remembered the 19th anniversary of the Indonesian earthquake and Tsunami of 2004 that claimed over 230000 lives around the rim of the north Indian Sea.

And the remarkable use that amateur radio was put to on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? The effort to reunite families on the islands was led by a New Delhi housewife, Bharathi Prasad VU2RBI. She was visiting the islands’ capital, Port Blair to set up its first ham radio station when the disaster struck, and the chain of 570 islands was cut off from the world.

But within hours, Bharathi Prasad put up her radio with the use of a hotel generator, and reached out to other ham operators. Soon she and six colleagues were conveying thousands of messages to and from the islands.

In similar vein, hams from the Indian subcontinent, from Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other parts of Indonesia did what they could, often without structured electricity grids to carry the messages of hope, survival, and often tragedy, as the death tolls mounted.

That all happened on Boxing Day 2004. It is amazing to think that 2024 will see the 20th anniversary of that disaster.

News from airtrafficmanagement.net is that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has approved the use of satellites to support voice and data communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. The approval was announced in Dubai at the World Radio Congress in December 2023. This approval will lead to substantial improvements in the safety, sustainability, efficiency and passenger experience of air transport.

Voice and data radio communications in the VHF band are used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. VHF radios are standard aircraft equipment around the world and are vital in ensuring the safety of air travel. Currently, VHF voice communications services are only available when the aircraft is within range of a ground-based radio. This means that large areas of the Earth’s surface, including much of the world’s oceans, are not covered. The use of satellites in place of ground-based radio systems will enable seamless global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers for the first time.

The use of space-enabled services supporting pilots and air traffic controllers will:

  • Improve safety by providing real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain correct separations between aircraft.
  • Reduce environmental emissions from aviation by allowing the most efficient routes to be flown by aircraft.
  • Increase efficiency of the aviation industry by reducing fuel consumption and reducing flight delays.
  • Improve the passenger experience by improving on-time performance. The cost of flight delays in the United States, Europe and Australia has been estimated at US$67.5 billion per year.

The approval follows [a company called] Skykraft’s world-first demonstration of space-to-ground voice communications systems operating in the VHF band, carried out in south-western Australia in July 2023. Skykraft’s trial of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band demonstrates the feasibility of satellite communication directly with aircraft using existing equipment.

Skykraft is developing a constellation of satellites to provide VHF-band communications services and surveillance services to track aircraft from 2025.

Thanks to airtrafficmanagement.net for the news. Hopefully, Skycraft’s systems, or others like it, will quickly span the globe and make air transport communications even more safe and guaranteed.

In a news item dated the 27th December, the ARRL says that 2023 has been a remarkable year for amateur radio. There were many noteworthy opportunities for hams to use their license privileges for the greater good. An annular solar eclipse saw radio amateurs engaging in projects of scientific research about our ionosphere, devastating firestorms gutted entire cities and saw Amateur Radio Emergency Service member-volunteers rise to activate, hurricanes threatened life and property, bicycle races spread across the desert necessitated robust communications provided by hams, and high school students led and executed contacts with the International Space Station. Many amateur radio operators stood to serve in ways that made headlines, and all of them were volunteers.

Commenting further, the Relay League reminds us of volunteer examiners who supervised amateur licensing exams, traffic net managers who handled traffic from hams checking in, and even the unsung mentors who helped newcomers on a one on one basis. Most of these volunteers did not get their names in lights.

The ARRL designated 2023 as the Year of the Volunteer to recognize these people’s efforts, and to encourage new prospective volunteers to follow their lead.

We have a small squad of like-minded volunteers in this country, and I’m sure the SARL, and especially HAMNET would encourage more to become volunteers in the hobby. It is a funny fact that you get more OUT of an activity when you put more IN to it, and this is also true of amateur radio. So, make only one New Year’s resolution this year, and let that be to volunteer your services to ham radio more than you already do! On behalf of us all in the hobby, I thank you.

I now grab this opportunity to wish you all a healthy, happy and safe New Year, and look forward to seeing the spirit of volunteerism even stronger amongst the amateur radio community, as we use our knowledge and experience to be of assistance to our fellow South Africans. Thank you to all our volunteers who give selflessly of their time, with the surreptitious knowledge that their hobby is more fun when they do!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa, and looking forward to serving you again in 2024.