For years, the Federal Aviation Administration has been working on modernizing the computer systems that keep our skies safe.
Many of these systems have been in operation for over 30 years, and while the old “it it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” saying may apply to a lot of stuff, it isn’t really applicable to air traffic control.
One of the new systems being tested by the FAA is actually live in Salt Lake City. The “En Route Automation” computer system provides better flight management, and allows flight controllers to handle more aircraft, in a wider range than the current systems.
Sadly, the system is not entirely free of glitches, as a controller at Salt Lake City airport encountered last weekend. When monitoring a flight on its way to Texas, the screen suddenly changed the plane to one that had just landed.
The new system was immediately taken offline, and all planes were told to increase their distances between each other while the backup air traffic control computers were brought online.
The glitch has been identified and a fix will be applied. Obviously, a new system is needed to reduce delays in the sky, but if basic things like aircraft identification do not work correctly, there may be quite a bit of work necessary before the new system goes nationwide.
Unlike our very own Kent Wien, I never trained to be a pilot, but even without those years of training, I can’t imagine it is very comforting to get close to your destination airport and find an unstaffed air traffic control tower.
This is exactly what happened when a jet carrying 156 passengers arrived in the airspace of Zamboanga airport in the Philippines, after a flight from the nation’s capital.
Instead of hearing the familiar commands from the tower telling them they were cleared to land, the Philippine Airlines flight crew heard nothing. It took 30 minutes of circling around the airport for someone to finally make their way to the tower and permit the jet to land.
Of the 5 controllers who were supposed to be on duty that morning, 2 were missing, 2 were late and one was on an approved day off, but their approval note did not make it to the airport administrator. Talk about a total breakdown of communications.
The excuse the remaining 4 controllers presented was that public transport was hard to find the day after Christmas, but officials say the controllers may still have been a little too much in “party mode”. I’m sure that is comforting to hear if you were in the air around Zamboanga that morning.
The newspaper article claims the controllers were fired, but Philippine officials merely say the 5 are currently suspended pending an investigation.
(Via: Sydney Morning Herald)
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