‘Air traffic system defective, risking flight safety’

By Koh Jun Lin

A defective air traffic control systems upgrade at the National Air Traffic Control Centre (NATCC) near Subang Airport last year has put flight safety at risk, claimed PKR leaders today.

NONEThe upgrade was allegedly defective upon its installation on Dec 13, 2011, leaving controllers clamouring for the return of the older control system, said Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar at a press conference today.

She told reporters that the NATCC coordinates air traffic nationwide, with airport control towers handling only local air traffic.

She said she learnt of the issue through documents and letters that had been left at her doorstep, copies of which she proceeded to distribute to the press but with some names withheld.

The veracity of the documents could not be independently verified at this point.

“Air traffic controllers deemed (the new system) Human-Machine Interface (HMI) unstable with substantial weaknesses, prompting the director of the NATCC to send a memo to all traffic controllers, in particular highlighting the ‘inconsistency in cleared flight level’,” she said.

She added that the contract to upgrade system was awarded through a closed negotiated tender, and was part of the final phase of the two-part Malaysian Air Traffic Services Modernisation Programme (MATSMP).

NONENurul Izzah (centre in photo), who is also a PKR vice-president, said the Phase Two of the programme costs RM120 million, while the first phase costs RM160 million.

Malaysiakini is withholding the names of the contractors pending comment.

Among the documents she distributed was a letter dated Jan 4, purportedly signed by 11 people including NATCC’s deputy directors of air traffic control.

The letter is addressed to their director, complaining that efforts to rectify the problems up to then were “very disappointing”, and air traffic controllers had been advised to be cautious.

‘New system caused staff’s workload to increase’

“The new system had caused our staff’s workload and stress to increase and the work environment had become uncomfortable. From time to time, we hear the officers on duty gripe about it,” the letter read.

NONEThe letter also said although they are not opposed to upgrades, the new system needs to be better than the old one, dubbed “System Alpha”, which they said should be restored if no immediate action is taken to rectify the matter.

In a separate document dated Dec 21 last year, the contractor purportedly told the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) that it would repair all the reported defects in March 2012, including flights that appear to be deviating from its flight path on the radar screen, but are actually not doing so.

Nurul Izzah said she has no information on further action on the matter, and demanded the DCA and the Transport Ministry to immediately respond to the allegations, explain the current extent of problems affecting the nation’s air traffic control system, and justify the reason the project was awarded to the contractors.

“The DCA must assure Malaysians of the current safety standards by obtaining an independent audit, to be conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and to be distributed to all members of Parliament,” she added.

NONEAfter the press conference, a copy of her letter was handed over to the DCA via its office near Subang Airport, while another copy was faxed to the Transport Ministry. She was accompanied by PKR vice-presidents N Surendran and Tian Chua.

Air traffic control officer Johnei Idek received the letter on the DCA’s behalf.

When contacted, DCA director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said he would issue a statement on the matter.

As of the time of writing, Malaysiakini is still trying to get a reaction from the contractors.

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