Radar blackout paralyzes
Soekarno-Hatta airport

Indonesia’s main gateway, the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, experienced a brief power outage that affected its radar system, disrupting flights to and from the airport on Sunday.

Soekarno-Hatta Air Traffic Services general manager Budi Hendra said that the uninterruptible power supply units (UPS) at the airport suddenly shutdown at 4:55 p.m.

“It wasn’t a total blackout, just the UPS,” he said as quoted by kompas.com, adding that the cause of the UPS power outage had not yet been determined.

Although power supply at the airport resumed at around 5:30 p.m., the airport authorities struggled to reboot a failure in the radar system.

More than 50 flights had to be rerouted or delayed, which triggered a domino effect that saw aircraft heading to Jakarta queuing at airports to wait for the radar to function again.

Garuda Indonesia had to delay 30 flights while more than 50 Lion Air flights were severely affected by the radar malfunction.

Aris Hervendra, a passenger whose flight to Bali was delayed said that the power outage also caused the lights at the airport to go out for a while.

“The lights went out and my flight was delayed. Passengers were not given any explanation [by the officials],” Aris said.

In September, the power supply at the airport was also cut off for almost an hour after its electricity substation in Meruya, West Jakarta, caught fire.

The failure caused Soekarno-Hatta’s control tower to go blank for 45 minutes, forcing aircraft to remain airborne until the system was fixed.

Sunday’s incident once again exposed problems with air traffic control (ATC) management that have long been left unresolved.

Despite rapid growth in passenger numbers, Soekarno-Hatta uses a 26-year-old system, called the Jakarta Automated Air Traffic Service (JAATS), to track around 2,000 aircraft on a daily basis — four times higher than the system’s original design capacity.

Although the JAATS was upgraded in 1996, the system seems to be overloaded by the increasing number of flights.

According to aviation experts, when the system fails, airplanes are forced to continue flying around the airport for up to 45 minutes until the ATC gives them landing clearance.

This could trigger an accident because not all commercial aircraft have suitable equipment to avoid collision.

Expansion of airline infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the soaring number of passengers at the airport.

Ranked 16th in the world’s busiest airports by passenger traffic, Soekarno-Hatta accommodated more than 50 million passengers in 2011, or more than twice its designed annual capacity of 22 million passengers.

Limited infrastructure is one of the industry’s major barriers to improving its safety and on-time

Frequent flight delays also lead to problems due to additional costs that affect all parties, especially travelers.

“Vested interests” may be behind sluggish official efforts to upgrade the nation’s antiquated and overburdened ATC system, despite the potential for midair collisions.

Critics have said that plans to separate ATC management from state airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II by 2012, as required by the 2009 Aviation Law, appeared to be at a stalemate.

Money may be one reason why the state airport operators have been slow to overhaul the nation’s ATC system, which is comprised principally of air traffic controllers directing aircraft on the ground and in the air to avoid collisions.

The ATC business, for example, accounts for at least 10 percent of the revenue of Angkasa Pura II, which manages Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, according to the company. (han/iwa)

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