Six more planes vanished off Hong Kong’s new air traffic control system, lawmaker claims

Jeremy Tam says there is also a problem with ‘ghost’ flights, as he urges authorities to come clean

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 11:29pm

A Hong Kong lawmaker has raised further questions about the troubled new air traffic control system, claiming that six more planes disappeared off the radar a day after the upgrade went live last week.

Former pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho of the Civic Party said another problem was fake “ghost” flights appearing on screens and duplicate aircraft icons popping up on controllers’ displays.

On Thursday morning Tam said he was giving the Civil Aviation Department until 4pm to come clean and disclose all the glitches with the much-delayed HK$1.56 billion navigation system.

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He stressed the need to disclose such incidents was in the public interest and for the sake of safety.

“If the department doesn’t do it, I will publicly [reveal the issues] – which flights, when and what incidents. I have solid proof that they can’t deny,” Tam warned.

The department said the problems were “not new”. It responded to the media at 3.42pm, insisting it had been forthcoming to the public about recent problems and that it would not comment further.

Tam called for the authorities to revert back to the old air traffic system while the new system was fixed and relaunched, or hire extra manpower to monitor the bugs and ensure flight safety.

“The CAD need to do their job properly, be transparent, and they have got to be honest to Hong Kong people,” he said.

Transport and Housing Secretary Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said there was “no question” of air safety being compromised, when asked whether he would investigate the issue further.

Cheung suggested that problems had occurred as a result of issues with the aircraft themselves and onboard equipment or the weather. Geographical factors were also cited as a factor in the case of an aircraft vanishing from the radar for 12 seconds last week.

A department spokeswoman reiterated Cheung’s earlier remarks, explaining that issues with the air traffic system were not the fault of the technology. It said the “unexplained nature [of the glitches] ... involves different external factors”, adding that the problems happened in the old system.

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Four of the six planes that allegedly disappeared were Cathay Pacific and Dragonair aircraft. A Cathay

spokeswoman said it had “no report of any irregularities” on its planes.

An air traffic controller, who declined to be named, said the incidents had increased the workload and left his colleagues hesitant. “No one is confident because it happened in a short period of time.

“The system is safe as long as everyone is aware of the shortcomings.”

He said controllers had adapted to the new technology to combat the problems.

The aviation regulator will on Friday host a media tour of the premises where the new air traffic system is installed.