Air Traffic Control Breakdown Is Unacceptable

      September 16, 2011 13:08

      A mysterious server problem at the Air Traffic Center at Incheon International Airport paralyzed air traffic control for almost an hour on Wednesday, causing 18 planes to take off more than 30 minutes late from Incheon, Gimpo and Jeju. Passenger planes operated by foreign carriers that were scheduled to either arrive in Korea or pass through its airspace were also delayed. Fortunately, the glitch did not result in any major accidents, but it was nonetheless an embarrassment for a country that boasts the world's 13th largest economy.

      The ATC was relocated to Incheon from Daegu when the airport opened in 2001 and handles an average of 1,400 passenger planes a day, directing their altitude, speed and destinations. When a glitch occurs in the server, controllers must communicate with individual pilots to ascertain the flight data of their aircraft, and that takes time. That manual process could also result in fatal accidents due to human error in calculating altitudes or directing aircraft in the wrong direction.

      The Ministry of Construction and Transportation believes human error was behind the glitch, saying there is almost no chance it was a hacker attack since the ATC's server is not connected to any external networks. But this was not the first time such a glitch occurred. On Nov. 6, 2004, the server was paralyzed for 44 minutes starting at 10:02 a.m., grounding 64 planes for almost two hours.

      Two more glitches in 2006 lasted seven minutes each and another that year lasted 24 minutes. Since then, the government set up an emergency ATC at Jeju International Airport, but it is not constantly staffed and cannot get to work immediately.

      Thailand and Switzerland both have two ATCs, the U.K. three, Japan and Germany four, and China 23. Korea urgently needs at least one more to direct air traffic in an emergency, and it must also boost the number of controllers.

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