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CAD responds to media enquiries on new ATMS
     In response to media enquiries today (February 10) on the new Air Traffic Management System (ATMS), a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said:

     The CAD has all along been explaining to the public about the operation of the new ATMS in an open and transparent manner, including the setbacks during the teething period after the launch of the new system. The department has never had any intention to cover up those setbacks. The CAD has repeatedly explained the phenomena of false targets, aircraft positions temporarily not displayed on the radar screens and split tracks through different channels, including at a meeting of the Legislative Council Panel on Economic Development on December 13, 2016. Please refer to relevant press releases (www.cad.gov.hk) and Legislative Council paper (www.legco.gov.hk) for details.

     The spokesman reiterated that the above-mentioned phenomena were caused by the limitations of radar technology and can be observed in the ATMSs of various developers. Specifically, the limitations of radar technology refer to radar signal interference by external factors and/or moving obstacles or terrain, occasional problems of aircraft transponders, etc, affecting the display of aircraft positions on the radar screens.  These phenomena are not unique to the new ATMS and have also been observed in ATMSs elsewhere and in the old ATMS here. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has issued guidelines on the limitations of radar technology and the contributing factors, and has organised international meetings on such issues from time to time to exchange views on the latest strategies for tackling them and feasible solutions by implementing new technology.

     Given the circumstances, the ATMS developers have generally addressed these issues in designing the ATMSs. In Hong Kong, no matter whether the Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs) use the old or the new ATMS, they can retrieve the position of an aircraft immediately or avoid split tracks by choosing an appropriate radar signal through the Main System in accordance with the established operational procedure as necessary. This procedure involves switching to the “bypass mode” (in case of the old ATMS) or “local mode” (in case of the new ATMS). All CAD frontline staff responsible for the air traffic management are conversant with relevant setting and operations.

     To overcome the limitations of radar technology, the ICAO advocates the implementation of the satellite-based “Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B)” technology in all member states/regions, concurrently with radar technology.  The CAD has all along been striving to expedite full implementation of ADS-B in the Hong Kong Flight Information Region (HKFIR). In the first phase, starting from November 14, 2016, ADS-B was implemented in the southern tip of the HKFIR, where there was no radar coverage.  So far, the results have been satisfactory. Moving on to the second phase on December 8, 2016, the ATCOs have been able to view the information on flights inside the HKFIR with radar coverage through a separate ADS-B screen next to the radar screen in the same working position. In other words, ATCOs can now obtain relevant flight information simultaneously through radar screens and ADS-B screens.  Having introduced ADS-B progressively, we have recently seen improvements in the display issue of aircraft positions on the radar screens. The CAD is going to implement ADS-B in full by the end of this year. It is expected that relevant performance can be further enhanced.

     During the second meeting of the ATMS Expert Panel held last month, the CAD also briefed the expert panel members on the display issue of aircraft positions on the radar screens. The expert panel considered that the safety performance of the new ATMS has so far exceeded international requirements. However, given the relatively short period of time since the commissioning of the new system, the CAD was urged to continue optimising the operating procedures and system in order to enable the system to continuously outperform international requirements. The CAD Electronics Engineers' Branch of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association concurred with the Expert Panel members’ views and reiterated that the display issue of aircraft positions on the radar screens was due to external factors and has nothing to do with the operation of the new ATMS. Similar to the transition of any large-scale and complicated ATMS, the teething issues encountered by the CAD during the initial commissioning of the ATMS were unavoidable. The President and representatives of the Hong Kong Air Traffic Control Association also informed the expert panel that the ATCOs have become more competent and confident in operating the new ATMS. The overseas independent consultant of the Transport and Housing Bureau, the UK-based National Air Traffic Services (NATS), agreed that the CAD has laid down procedures for trained and professional ATCOs to handle different situations and to safeguard aviation safety. The spokesman stressed that the effective performance of the new ATMS has been unanimously recognised by the staff unions representing the serving frontline staff of the CAD, the expert panel and NATS. The effective handling of the record-breaking flight movements during the recent Christmas and New Year holidays also proves the effective operations of the new system.

     There is a media report quoting some “retired CAD Electronics Engineers” as saying that the new ATMS has observed different issues. According to the media report, which carried the excerpts from a letter, relevant persons have already left their jobs in the CAD. Therefore, they may not be able to fully grasp the actual situation of the new ATMS operations now. The spokesman noted that CAD management will be happy to meet with the persons concerned and help them have a better understanding of the latest performance of the new ATMS.  

     To ensure that the performance of the new ATMS continues to attain the highest level of aviation safety, the CAD will continue to foster communications with the system’s supplier and frontline staff in order to resolve any teething problems progressively, including the adoption of a software fix, to be delivered by the Raytheon Company in late February for site acceptance test, in due course to address the issue that the radar screens were unable to display some of the flight information.
Ends/Friday, February 10, 2017
Issued at HKT 22:05
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