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Radar failure threatens aviation safety

2015-02-16  Mathias Haufiku

Radar failure threatens aviation safety
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By Mathias Haufiku WINDHOEK – Namibia’s radar system, which tracks the movement of planes and on which air traffic controllers provide surveillance service, is said to be failing. The secondary surveillance radar system’s dual referencing beacon, which consists of twin-transponders, is said to be failing, with a persistent fault detected in the last two years, but no concrete actions have yet been taken, according to documents shared with New Era. However, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport, Peter Mwatile, said he was not aware of such a failure when approached for comment last week. “I am not aware of the situation because it has not been reported to me yet,” said Mwatile. Communication memos shared with New Era indicate that besides the beacon being sent back to the manufacturers in France for repairs on two occasions, an engineer was also in Namibia in late January this year to repair the faulty component that was repaired in France. The repaired component only worked for some weeks before it failed again. Sources say although the situation could land the country in trouble with international aviation watchdogs for not rectifying the situation, it seems the Civil Aviation Directorate is yet to inform government of the precarious situation. According to international standards, if the self-check units of a monitoring system have malfunctioned, the radar should be switched off and air traffic controllers should revert to procedural control. Deputy Director of Aviation Administration and Navigation in the Directorate of Civil Aviation, Tobias Gunzel, pleaded ignorance on the matter and requested New Era to send questions to Mwatile for an official response. Communication memos indicate that the beacons have not been operational for about two weeks now and that both of them have never been functional simultaneously since the system was launched in 2011. In the documents, Gunzel downplays the significance of the secondary radar beacon saying, “It is considered sufficient to monitor the secondary radar’s performance using the primary radar.” Gunzel’s assertions in the e-mail memos contradict his statements in the media on the importance of the secondary radar where he said: “On top of the primary is a smaller secondary radar referred to as the intelligent radar, which sends out a signal that is received by the aircraft, and the aircraft then inserts its information and sends it back. The intelligent radar works with codes. Therefore, if the aircraft has a radio failure it sends a specific code to inform the air traffic controllers based at Eros airport.” Although Gunzel acknowledges problems with the monitoring device of the secondary radar, he asserts that the windhoek terminal area is still covered by the primary radar as well as the Wider Movement Area Multilateration System. Aviation sources say the beacon was sent to France more than once for repairs and that a French engineer came to Namibia last year to rectify the situation but the outcome was not positive. “The units have been reset several times but then they only work for a while and malfunction again,” aviation experts in the ministry say. Government signed the N$175 million agreement in 2009 for the installation of surveillance radar with the Thales. The primary and secondary radar systems have since been installed at the Hosea Kutako International Airport. The primary radar is used to detect any aircraft or moving object in the air while the secondary radar obtains information such as altitude and speed from the aircraft. This information is then combined and the air traffic controller sees all the information on a screen. During the signing ceremony, government said Thales will train locals as well as make use of the military-owned August 26 Holdings for the maintenance work, but it seems that has not been done adequately because engineers had to be flown in last month to attend to the problem. contacted Thales South Africa on Friday afternoon for a comment, although the company promised to revert back, it failed to uphold its promise.
2015-02-16  Mathias Haufiku

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