21 April 2019
Hong Kong airport's new air traffic control system has suffered several glitches since it went live last month. Photo: Xinhua
Hong Kong airport's new air traffic control system has suffered several glitches since it went live last month. Photo: Xinhua

More glitches at air traffic system even as checks underway

Hong Kong airport’s new air traffic control system continues to suffer intermittent glitches, with two more cases of equipment or software malfunction coming to light.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) confirmed late Monday that the radar screen at the airport’s control tower failed to show some flight data for as long as 75 seconds at noon that day.

The disruption happened for a longer period compared to a similar such incident on Nov. 29, when data disappeared from the screen for about 26 seconds, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

A CAD spokesman said the latest glitch was different from the previous one since the former happened under “known” condition as opposed to “unknown” in the latter case.

The spokesman claimed that the control tower staff were able to see complete data of all flights on the other screen during the 75 seconds through the recently implemented surveillance technology called automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS–B),

Hence, aviation safety was not jeopardized at all, he said. 

Meanwhile, news website reported that the CAD also confirmed that the system’s radar showed a flight had a head-on collision with a “ghost” private aircraft on the morning of Dec. 9.

The incorrect signal is said to have appeared after the aircraft took off.

Although the ghost aircraft fell off radar after the non-existent collision, the incident still caused the system to issue an anti-collision alarm.

Some staff at the control tower were said to have been terrified at the incident.

Responding to queries, the CAD said similar incidents have happened at airports in other parts of the world.

Authorities will strive to improve the new system, the department said, while stressing that aviation safety was not at risk even under a “slightly unsmooth” situation like this.

Notwithstanding the CAD explanations, the reality is that the new HK$1.5 billion Autotrac 3 air traffic management system, which was procured from US defense company Raytheon and fully put in operation on Nov. 14, continues to be worrisome as glitches have cropped up one after another.

That meant that managers from Raytheon, who have come over to Hong Kong to look at the issues related to their system, have not been able to resolve the problems yet.

Questioning the CAD as to why it never took the initiative to come clean on all the reported glitches, Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a newly-elected Civic Party lawmaker who was once a pilot, said the department’s attitude worries him.

He demanded that authorities take the incidents seriously and ask Raytheon to conduct thorough investigations.

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