Millions worth of air traffic control automation equipment installed a year ago is lying idle with many touch screens of the Avibit system shattered due to incorrect handling at the country’s only international airport.
According to maintenance technicians at Tribhuvan International Airport, the electronic flight progress strips under the flight data management system have become useless due to negligence of the regulatory and operating authorities.
TIA’s General Manager Birendra Prasad Shrestha admitted that lack of technical know-how and human resources caused a delay in switching the ATC automation fully to e-FPS.
The e-FPS solution from Avibit, Austria, was installed at a cost of more that US$ 2 million under the air traffic management part of the Asian Development Bank-funded Air Transport Capacity Enhancement Project for Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal in 2012. .
“Air traffic controllers maintain a log of the progress of all flights within their jurisdiction and instructions issued to them, on what is referred to as FPS, which, traditionally, are paper strips,” experts said, adding that entries made by ATCs on the FPS not only serve as memory aid for ATCs to ensure adequate separation of flights, but they are also invaluable for directing search and rescue missions, if needed.
Though the technical specifications for ATC automation were prepared by experts associated with Japanese Airport Consultant and vetted by the CAAN, TIA officials claimed that e-FPS might have served well in Vienna, but owing to the substantially different nature of air traffic in and around Kathmandu, the purpose was defeated.
As paper FPS has limitations that preclude rapid handing over to the next ATC position handling adjoining airspace, the electronic flight progress strips was introduced in the developed world where the mouse and keyboard replaced the controllers’ pen and paper. Additional problems encountered in archiving paper-FPS for legal purposes, especially for accident investigation, are also obviated by the use of e-FPS.
“Unfortunately, at TIA, the e-FPS was viewed as merely a change of form, naively and un-professionally done by purported experts from JAC, the firm ironically recommended by ADB itself,” an aviation expert told this daily.
International Civil Aviation Organisation norms require comprehensive safety assessment for any ATM related changes whether airspace redesign or introduction of new equipment, system or facilities, but whether this was done in case of the e-FPS is doubtful.
Clearly, the competence of experts involved in the project is suspect. How many Avibit e-FPS solutions have been successfully commissioned by JAC in TIA-like traffic situations need to be investigated, a senior ATC demanded.
Under the project contract, two senior executives — an ATC and engineer from CAAN — visited the Graz facility of Avibit for comprehensive factory acceptance tests. “Only after successful FAT lasting a week, was the system installed at TIA. A few air traffic controllers and maintenance technicians were also trained in Austria on the system,” sources close to ATCEP said.
Typically, the cognitive workload of an active controller is mostly air traffic related. “But, when we are using e-FPS, the situation, comically, is such that air traffic situational awareness takes a backseat, while we are compelled to focus on user and context-unfriendly system,” an ATC source claimed.
Unfortunately, a safety assessment under the safety management system programme of the CAAN (clearly defunct), well in time, would have clearly identified the problems and offered correctional strategies at the outset, a senior CAAN executive remarked.