The automation system that helps Mumbai air traffic control handle a large volume of flights land, take off and overfly safely and efficiently has been prone to an unhealthy number of glitches and failures in the recent past.
In June alone, the automation system faced more than 70 subsystem problems, stated a letter by the Air Traffic Controllers Guild to its employer, the government-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI), on Wednesday, July 27. AAI provides air traffic services over the Indian airspace.
Among the issues plaguing the Mumbai air traffic control are sudden blackout or freezing of controllers’ display screens, systems rebooting repeatedly, server failure, and computerised workstations with keyboards and mouses that don’t function properly, among others.
The hardware for the current automation system is over 16 years old; while the lifespan of the system is estimated to be 10 years, said the letter. The system was procured keeping in mind the air traffic scenario that existed over two decades ago.
The traffic has increased manifold thereafter and the airspace structure has changed. All the changes are done through software, though, and are being implemented on the same hardware components-comprising workstations, servers, and recorders, among others, that is-which were already working at peak capacity way back in 2010.
“To put it in perspective, we have upgraded our laptops/system from 128 MB RAM to 5-8 GB RAM in the past 20 years. Had we been using the old system, we would not be able to even open a web browser or run a simple program,” stated the letter, explaining the issue at hand.
Among the other major failures recorded in the recent past, the controllers’ workstation that handles arrival, departure and overflying flights failed about 30-odd times in March and the workstation that handles flights over oceanic airspace failed about 10 times from March 20 and April 05, it said.
Then, between March and April, there were about 25 failures of sub-systems, including the ‘flight data processing system’. Remedial action taken included changing the RAM, replacing hardware machines with local spare parts and restarting the sub-system to sustain operations by all means.
The guild letter proposed immediate and long-term solutions. AAI should request Raytheon, the manufacturer, to provide hardware support for the existing system, it said.
For the long term, a tender for a new automation system has already been floated for airports, including Mumbai. But procurement, installation, commissioning, training etc will take at least 4 years, it said.
ALSO READ – Shortage of Air Traffic Controllers widens
India’s ATC sector is already facing a shortage of air traffic controllers, with the current workforce already falling short by 22% of the sanctioned number. While airports are sprouting rapidly in the country, new recruitment has not been able to keep pace with the development.
Mumbai airport alone has seen more than 132% increase in passenger traffic in the last six months. Aircraft movement will only increase from now on, which means that fully upgraded ATC equipment is a top priority.
(With Inputs from The Times of India)