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The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

TAIC releases report on unplanned interruption to air traffic control services

Christchurch Air Traffic Control Tower.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s (TAIC) report into the unplanned interruption to air traffic control services on 23 June 2015 was released by the Commission last month. 

In a statement, Airways’ Chief Operating Officer, Pauline Lamb, said that the TAIC report confirmed the findings of Airways’ own internal investigation as well as an independent external review they commissioned immediately after the event.

Airways said that the remedial steps it took following its review had been acknowledged by TAIC and the Commission has issued no further recommendations.

On 23 June 2015, a 90-second interruption on Airways’ internal network caused a significant service outage to New Zealand’s air traffic control systems. Although the system returned four minutes later, the statement said, Airways took the prudent approach of curtailing operations for one hour and 50 minutes before resuming full service so they could assure the safety and integrity of their systems.

“At no point was the safety of the travelling public compromised. Air traffic controllers are trained for such events and used established back up processes to ensure airborne aircraft continued to their planned destinations safely.”

Pauline Lamb said that she was “proud of the way our people handled this unprecedented situation.”

“The outage was caused by a particular and unusual combination of events. It was initiated by a software code error on a device that was introduced to the network at the end of a complex 18-month upgrade project to transition our network from analogue to digital technology.”

“While this device behaved in a way it was not designed to, Airways also did not have the highest level of protection in place, as we would normally expect.”

Immediately following this event Airways thoroughly reviewed all aspects of its network management and design and made important changes.

“These changes include improving our processes for testing and upgrading equipment on the network; recruiting more resource to our networks team; appointing a chief technology officer who reports directly to the executive team; and improving risk and project management processes.

“We are confident these changes have ensured this event will not recur and Airways continues to operate a well-designed and resilient network that provides a high level of service to New Zealand’s critical air traffic control services.

“We sincerely apologise to our airline customers, airport customers and the travelling public for the disruption caused by the event on 23 June 2015,” the Airways’ statement concluded. 

Reporting on the TAIC investigation, the New Zealand Herald referred also to the findings in regard to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The TAIC found that CAA’s rules were not suited to new technology used to control air traffic.

Both Airways and the CAA had brought in new measures or hired new staff to try to avoid a repeat of the incident. The Commission has recommended that the Secretary for Transport update and restructure Civil Aviation rules, which define how an aeronautical telecommunications network is to be managed, the New Zealand Herald reported.

NZALPA president Tim Robinson, who was sent a copy of the TAIC report by Airways, said that the organisation would also discuss the findings of the report with them and it was likely to come up on the agenda when he met with the new Transport Minister, Hon Phil Twyford. 

"This is a safety-critical industry and our members and the travelling public have to have confidence in the capability of Airways' digital data network and that there is adequate oversight by the regulator (the Civil Aviation Authority),'' he said.

The report says the CAA has changed its approach by implementing learning and development training for regulatory staff, revision of position descriptions and recruitment or secondment of new staff.

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