Monday, October 28, 2013

The Radar Out Experience

Manila Control Tower
Keeping the sky and ground safe 24/7

If you think you have already seen the whole scenario of the radar out last week, well... think again. The media have only reported the scenes from the airport terminals where thousands of passengers got stranded due to delayed and cancelled flights brought about by the radar outage. What I am going to share is my experience at the control tower.

When I was still an ATC Trainee, we were taught on how to handle unusual air traffic situations. During our dry runs in Approach and Aerodrome Control, our usual scenarios were always out-of-this-world - an aircraft reported heavy tailwind during the approach and executed a missed approach procedure, quasi-emergency due to the departing Kalayaan 1 (Presidential flight), and an aircraft over Manila declares an emergency. All of these happen in one air traffic situation. I deemed this situation to be absurd and it will never, ever, happen in real life. Because if it does, you are the luckiest person in the whole world. The gods must be damn crazy!

The outage last week made me realize that I was wrong. In air traffic, always expect the unexpected.

Since the radar in Manila Approach was unservicable for 30 straight hours, delays were inevitable. Procedural control means that air traffic is controlled by means of flight strips and continuous position and altitude reports from the pilots. The capacity of handling air traffic had to be reduced to more than half of the average rate (11 arrivals/departures per hour versus 25 arrivals/departures per hour). Despite the anticipated delays, the first hour of my shift was normal until we were informed that the President's flying out of Manila. We had no choice but to hold ALL arrival and departures. During quasi-emergencies, there should be no aircraft movements within the 20-mile radius. Arriving flights began to stack up over HANEL, a reporting point 17-miles southeast of Manila. The worse has yet to come. The Presidential plane's pilot reported that the engine won't start and the President will transfer to another plane. Since that would take around 10-15 minutes, my seniors asked the PSGs who were at the control tower to allow us to accept at least 2-3 arrivals because Manila Approach can no longer handle such congestion. But the guard was adamant and even asked us to wait for another five precious minutes. It was indeed agonizing to witness such situation because honestly, I find it really stressful. It is really hard to decide. In the end, my seniors handled the situation well despite the stress.

Flight strips

That particular situation was an eye-opener. Everything is bound to happen no matter how impossible it may seem. The job of an Air Traffic Controller is not a routine one. It also made me inspire to always do my best during my shift because in every clearance I deliver to the pilots, thousands of lives and millions of worth of properties are at stake.

The responsibility of being one is undeniably BIG, but I am ready to face the future of my career.



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  2. The media must cover ATC situations while there are radar problems !


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