Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Air Traffic Control Issues

Just a Quick one,

Last Week, while drinking beer with a number of (off duty) Pilots in Abu Dhabi, I was asked about the systems failure in MCT air traffic control. And I was all like Wha?? Huh??? And then they said yeah, everybody up here is talking about it, because it was like, really bad. And I was all, No way! Because we have a great ATC training college here and I think we take our air safety rather more seriously than that, so why don't you stuck up pilots just suck it? And they were like, go home and ask your ATC buddies.

Jump to a couple of days ago when I arrive home and get caught up on the blogs. Lo and behold, two blogs are talking about the system going down, chaos, and Airprox events. Whaaa??? Before we continue, Have any of you read Muscat Confidential's posts on the issue? If not go read them now.

There are not a lot of comments, but one worth highlighting is in the first post, written buy someone who claims to be a Controller in Muscat. I have thoughtfully put the interesting part in bold. See Below.

Muscat ATC SSK said...

1)if you are talking about human error i am with you but Omani technicians aren't exempted (most important thing they've to learn through) Similar problem happen in Melbourne and Ireland according to our radar sys manufacture company.

2)if you talking about covering up ,every country has own policies( I've never came across of air miss happen in States or N. Zealand ! and as a passenger you have no right to question the country of what happen that day ,you can only ask the airline you have traveled with . Sure they'll have an answer if they have filled a report.

Ummm... the above strikes me as the writings of an extremely defensive individual who feels that multiple Airprox events and a system crash are not a big deal. Because, who are you to question us or expect reasonable answers and transparency? Ladies and Gentlemen, your lives may be in that guy's hands.

ATC systems do go down occasionally, the US had a huge issue with the digital flight plans system abut ten years ago, which caused massive delays but not much in the way of safety issues. More interestingly, about this time last year, Sanwick which controls (I think) Area, Approach, and Departure traffic for all of London, as well as Area traffic for most of Northern Europe, had a major failure.

They, like our local contemporaries, were working with little basic radar blips, charts, landlines, and radios. Unlike our local associates, as far as I'm aware, there were no Airprox events on this one, despite it occuring in some of the most congested airspace in the world. The failure was reported in the papers, and a transparent answer for the problem was eventually provided by the concerned authorities. If you are a dork, like me, here is an excellent explanation of how it worked when Sanwick went down Here:

(Jet Driver if you are reading, could you Fact Check for the last paragraphs regarding Sanwick please? )

However, the thing I find most surprising is the generalized silence that greeted the revelations. like, few comments on the blogs, nothing that I am aware of in the papers, and an apparent embargo on any one affiliated with DGCAM or Oman Air speaking about it. I rang a few friends who would know what happened, and they wouldn't tell me Anything that has not already been published because they are afraid for their jobs. The words Witchhunt, Scapegoat, and Cover-up featured heavily in our conversations.

I think this is the biggest story broken by a blogger in Oman, but nobody in the print media seems to want to touch it. WTF? We're talking about the ENTIRE ATC (and for a short time RADAR) system being brought down, Airprox events that followed, a near miss on a plane carrying ministers, all due due to what appears to be staggering incompetency by a senior systems guy. Add that to the widespread allegations of nepotism, nationalism and bad management in the tower and DGCAM and you have, I think, a story and a problem that people would like to know about.

That's all for today. I promise to write about the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 starting tomorrow.


Jet Driver said...


I concur with the last paragraphs but can only really do so from a pilot's perspective. The ghost images and false returns on radar consoles do indeed happen.

We get similar returns on the flightdeck but on a different system (TCAS) - and it is usually from ships. Erroneous data is all over the place in aviation.


Suburban said...

Thanks JD. Good to have an airplane guy around.

Blewyn said...

"a near miss on a plane carrying ministers"

Do planes carrying ministers have larger exclusion zones than those carrying non-ministers ?

Muscat ATC SSK said...

Can you please show me in which part did i claim to be a controller in Muscat ?
and i think you should've copy paste this part as well

Muscat ATC SSK said...
you had a contract with the airline (the ticket ) to take you to your destination safely so you can question them, in the other hand the airline has a contract with appropriate authority to provide them the best service when overflying their airspace so if it wasn't provided then the airline has all the right to question that authority.