The proposed Air Traffic Control system under construction at Juba International Airport. (Courtesy photo)

Chinese firm building Air Traffic Control suspends work over $36m arrears

South Sudan’s national transport minister on Wednesday revealed that the China Harbour Engineering Company), a Chinese firm contracted to build the Country’s air traffic management system in Juba, has halted work on the project due to delays in payment of an outstanding bill of 36 million U.S dollars.

South Sudan’s national transport minister on Wednesday revealed that the China Harbour Engineering Company), a Chinese firm contracted to build the Country’s air traffic management system in Juba, has halted work on the project due to delays in payment of an outstanding bill of 36 million U.S dollars.

According to Minister Madut Biar, South Sudan, whose airspace has been controlled by neighboring Sudan since it gained independence in 2011, signed a deal with China Harbour Engineering Company in 2021, to build its own Air Traffic Control (ATC) system. However, the work was suspended because the country has not adhered to the terms of payments in the contract.

When fighting erupted in Sudan in April 2023, Sudan closed its airspace to all civilian air traffic and South Sudan consequently had to suspend air navigation services above Fly Level 245 (FL245).

“Our airspace is now operational except the upper airspace. What is the problem of the upper airspace? The problem is that since the contract started, we were supposed to take over our airspace this June but we are facing problems of paying the contractor.” Minister Biar told members of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

He said according to the agreement, South Sudan is supposed to pay the Chinese firm a sum of 6.2 million U.S dollars every 21 January and 21 July, which the finance ministry has not adhered to.

“They suspended the contract simply because our ministry of finance has not been meeting some contractual obligations,” he revealed. “What I found in the contract is that there was a payment of 6.2 million dollars every 21 January and 21 July. And now July is coming. So, there was accumulation, and that resulted in the extra account.”

The minister warned that if the country fails to pay the company the outstanding arrears, it will not be able to complete the work of installing radars in the states and at the facility in Juba among other things.

“Yesterday I received another letter of suspension that said that if this money is not paid, we should not question the company,” Biar said. “I fear that already there some equipment is being installed but if the operation is suspended, I am afraid that equipment might get worn out.”

He said most radar stations in places such as Juba, Wau, Bor, Raga, and Kapoeta have been completed but that the radar in Malakal station is pending.