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Defective system puts flights at risk?

 | June 8, 2012

Documents revealed by PKR seem to show defects found in Malaysia's air traffic control system.

UPDATED

SUBANG:  As many as 68 defects may be present in Malaysia’s current air traffic control system, putting civilian flights at risk, according to documents revealed by PKR.

Armed with documents listing these defects, Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar said a system known as the Human Machine Interface was put to work as part of an upgrade of the Malaysian Air Traffic Control Network on Dec 13 last year.

According to the PKR vice-president, the system ran into problems as soon as it went up, causing headaches for air traffic controllers.

“[There are] altogether 68 as of last year… The fact that defects are there, and the fact that the project and the contract continued, raises serious concerns.

“What are the sort of corrective measures taken? You are talking about the safety of our airways,” she told reporters in front of the Department of Civil Aviation here.

She was accompanied by Batu MP Tian Chua and PKR vice-president N Surendran.

It is not known if these defects have been corrected by the two companies contracted in creating the system since December 2011 – a two-phase upgrade that cost RM280 million.

A PKR statement named the upgrade as the Malaysian Air Traffic Services Modernisation Programme (MATSMP) Improvement Project (MIP).

The two companies identified were the Italian-based SELEX Sistemi Integrati – the initial developer of the upgrade – and Advanced Air Traffic Systems (M) Sdn Bhd (AAT).

(There are an estimated 968 air traffic controllers in Malaysia, a 2011 Star article reported, with 621 in West Malaysia and 347 in East Malaysia.)

Close negotiated tender

PKR claimed that the system upgrade was offered as a closed negotiated tender to Selex.

A Dec 21, 2011 document known as a Certificate of Practical Completion (CPC) from DCA director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman to Selex Sistemi listed a number of the defects seemingly found in the system.

A few of them were printed (in verbatim) as follows:

Provision of Tawau System

Systems suddenly changed from MRT to DARD in a few seconds causing the target to drop and becomes transponder code only even though the data line is serviceable. The Controller need to decorrelate and correlate on CWP and the aircraft will appear again. Good example is aircraft from WBKW to WBKK, the problem happens randomly

Provision of Sibu System

Weather maps displayed on the radar monitors are not centred at Sibu Radar.

System changed from MRT to DARD quite frequently and sometimes three times a day.

Aircraft during taxiing shows complete information as if the aircraft already airborne. The display shows call sign, height between 100ft and 200ft, speed and departure time. This behaviour results in wrong ATD and enroute information.

Provision of KL ATCC COTS

Live EST Recalculation: a very big margin and to be under observation (for a 60 minutes flight, difference of exit points more than 30 minutes difference).

RPL: Some flights did not wake up.

Some of the flights coming from the west especially arrivals to Kuching on M761 and G580, the target when first appeared on the radar screen showing either the aircraft is deviating left or right of track and worse than that, the aircraft is not deviating or descending.

‘Documents appeared at our doorstep’

Many of these details were acknowledged by Selex as defects. Other remarks from the company were listed as “Need more clarification”.

A Letter of Undertaking document also showed that Selex Sistemi was to “make good” all the reported defects in the CPC by March this year.

PKR also revealed a Jan 4 letter this year, this time from supervisors working for the Subang Air Traffic Control Centre, addressed to the Director of the National Air Traffic Control Centre (NATCC).

Air traffic controllers, it seemed, were disappointed with the authorities with regard to fixing the system’s defects.

“We are of the opinion that the current system in use is not yet fully stable and has many significant weaknesses,” the letter read, calling for “immediate action” to be taken.

In fact, the supervisors even suggested that the system prior to the Dec 13, 2011 upgrade was more stable, and called for the system to be reverted.

The changes, they said, had caused stressful work environments for controllers.

They also cited a Dec 23, 2011 meeting, where a “Safety Management System” unit had reported on the system’s defects. However, the supervisors said that no action had been taken.

It is not known if the defects had been fixed by March this year.

Asked if any serious airline mishaps occurred due to the changes, Nurul said that PKR was not aware of any incidents.

She then said that the Transport Ministry and the DCA would know better, demanding answers over this matter.

Nurul was also vague on how PKR came across these documents.

She said: “They appeared on our doorstep,” and continued later, “You know what happens to whistleblowers these days.”

A memorandum listing these concerns were then handed over to a NATCC official Johnli Idek, who declined to comment over the matter.


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