The Bulgarian Air Traffic Services Authority, BULATSA, established in 1969, provides air traffic management and air navigation services to enable the safe, efficient and expeditious flow of traffic in the country’s airspace. BULATSA (www.bulatsa.com) is also in charge of the provision, maintenance and operation of the relevant systems and equipment to ensure the communications, navigation, surveillance, meteorological and aeronautical aspects of air traffic management and its supporting infrastructure.
What is BULATSA’s role in the wider air traffic picture and what are the main priorities in its work?
Our job is very specific – we are responsible for the safe and regular flights in Bulgaria’s airspace and over parts of the Black Sea. Our air traffic controllers maintain constant contact with the pilots, giving them instructions about a flight’s direction, altitude or speed, so that each aircraft remains at a safe distance from the other and from the ground. This is a complex activity, we work in changeable weather conditions, high traffic density, military exercises, etc.
At first glance, the sky is limitless but in fact analyses show that flights in Europe will face increasing difficulties as the capacity of the airspace and the major airports is being filled up. That’s why one of our priorities is to create capacity to service a greater number of flights. We are responsible for the so called airspace design which determines the route network, the compliance with the standards for a safe distance between civil and military air-craft, as well as for a safe overflight of ground obstacles. The most important asset in the system are the highly qualified air traffic controllers who ensure the functioning of this orderly structure, certainly with the support of modern technology. All these elements are key to capacity and our main efforts are directed at providing conditions for future growth.
Did the global economic crisis cool down your expectations for growth in aviation or are we going to witness a stable uptrend nevertheless?
Air transport is becoming more accessible and a necessary way of life in the modern world. The number of people who opt for air travel as a means of transport is constantly on the rise. The economic crisis brought a brief decline in the number of operated flights but that has long been in the past. Over the last few years, we have been witnessing a steady growth trend as a result of an increase in passengers to and from Turkey, the Middle East and Asia. The flights that connect these regions with Western Europe pass through Bulgaria’s airspace.
Another important factor are the military operations in Ukraine, which led to a large number of flights being rerouted to fly via Bulgarian airspace. Special measures are required to organize the people and the airspace in such a manner so as to safely handle the current levels of air traffic.
How do you cope with these challenges?
We strive to continuously improve the corporate environment and working conditions. I really see having the best people as key here. And we are constantly sending the message that we are expecting bright young individuals to come and work for BULATSA.
Furthermore, we are implementing a large-scale programme to introduce the most advanced technologies available on the global market. In 2015 we will complete the latest update of the automated air traffic management system that will allow sending text messages to aircraft via data link and receiving real-time flight data such as altitude, speed, etc from the airborne systems. In 2012, a new traffic control tower was put into operation and in 2015 we are introducing an advanced surface movement guidance and control system for aircraft at Sofia airport. We are also in the process of commissioning state-of-the-art air traffic control radars and upgrading the air communication and navigation equipment.
What are your medium-term goals?
Today, BULATSA is one of the most efficient air navigation service providers in Europe with a clear vision for development. Partnership with our Romanian colleagues within the DANUBE FAB functional airspace block is of key value for us. We appreciate the importance of our participation in the SESAR programme of the EU for the introduction of future standards for technological equipment. We are a leader in the aviation sector in Bulgaria and an employer providing career development opportunities to the best young professionals on the country’s labour market. We invest exceptional resources and attention in training new air traffic controllers. The processes of selection and training are very demanding and a good deal of effort is required to meet the criteria for obtaining an air traffic controller licence. By all means, the subsequent success is extremely motivating.