20 February 2019
Jeremy Tam alleges that the new ATC system at the airport has caused far more problems than what has been admitted by officials. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/Jeremy Tam Man-ho
Jeremy Tam alleges that the new ATC system at the airport has caused far more problems than what has been admitted by officials. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/Jeremy Tam Man-ho

Lawmaker makes new claims on ATC system glitches at airport

A lawmaker has urged authorities to come clean on the problems encountered with the new air traffic control (ATC) system at the city’s airport, alleging that there have been far more glitches with the system than officially admitted.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a newly-elected Civic Party lawmaker who was once a pilot, accused the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) of concealing some incidents of planes falling off the radar screen.

While the CAD admitted to one such glitch last week, there have been several more such incidents that have not been made public, Tam said on Thursday.

The lawmaker claimed, citing a source from the airport control tower, that he has learnt that a total of six flights involving four airlines disappeared from radar screen on the evening of Nov. 15, and not just one as acknowledged by the CAD.

All the incidents happened within a one-and-a-half hour period, with the aircraft falling off the radar for as long as 10 seconds each, he said, according to Sing Tao Daily.

Tam also said that he has learnt of “ghost flights” appearing on radar screen, and that the false signals caused worry among air traffic controllers as they put the staff at the risk of giving out wrong instructions to the system.

The CAD admitted last Sunday that a flight fell off the radar for about 12 seconds on Nov. 15, a day after a new HK$1.5 billion Autotrac 3 air traffic management system was fully put in operation.

The news came after an earlier incident in which two Cathay Pacific Airways planes reportedly almost had a head-on collision at the airport in late October.

In a press conference Thursday, Tam called on the CAD to disclose all the problems related to the new ATC system that has been procured from US defense firm Raytheon. 

As the matter pertains to flight safety, the public has the right to know of anything that went wrong, he said.

Tam had earlier alleged that the CAD took the ATC system live despite being aware that some bugs were yet to be fixed.

On Thursday, the former pilot said the glitches may not be isolated cases and that there could be a real problem.

He urged the aviation safety watchdog to offer a detailed explanation by Friday. If officials don’t come clean, Tam warned that he will make more revelations.

He said the problems brought by the new system, which he claims have been occurring almost on daily basis, have put control tower staff under great pressure.

Responding to Tam’s comments, Secretary for Housing and Transport Anthony Cheung said disappearance of flights briefly from radar screens is not uncommon in ATC systems.

The problem does not necessarily result from the system itself, and may stem from other factors, he said.

The CAD, which has insisted that the system has been operating smoothly, said its control tower staff is capable of dealing with any glitches.

Lok Kung-nam, a former chief of the department, told Ming Pao Daily that the problems pointed out by Tam can happen to any system and could involve multiple possible factors.

He pointed out that the system is generally able to return to normal after a short period of time.

To allay people’s doubts, the CAD can consider releasing some comparative data between the old and the new systems, Lok said.

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