Increased workload, lack of training in upgraded systems at Timehri concern staff

As the installation of a state of the art upgrade of communication and navigation systems at the air traffic control tower at Timehri continues, staff  there have expressed concern over an increase in the workload the new system has brought in its train and the lack of adequate training for the relevant technicians.

In addition, owing to cost reasons, only one of the two specially manufactured computers for the system which were expected to be installed was actually purchased.

In August 2009, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) inked a US$3.5 million ($700 million) contract with Canadian company Intelcan Technosystems Inc, aimed at upgrading communication and air-navigation systems at the airport’s control tower.

The project which was streamlined several months later saw work begin on the upgrade earlier this year, including a replacement of equipment as part of the plan to modernise the airport‘s systems.

However, recently several staff at the facility told this newspaper that the new system which is undergoing a trial and testing phase is nevertheless in use, and has placed an additional strain on an already onerous workload. They noted too that the project had been undertaken without much staff input.

Attempts to reach Transport Minister Robeson Benn this week for a comment on the issue were futile while Director General of the GCAA, Zulficar Mohammed was said to be overseas. At the same time this newspaper could not ascertain the identity of the official acting in his absence.

A source at the airport told this Stabroek News last week that the GCAA team which travelled to Canada to carry out a factory site inspection of communication equipment made their decisions in the context of cutting costs. This newspaper was told that the team was shown a complete air traffic audio visual communication system to be placed in the two main facilities at the control tower at Timehri.

However, the issue of cost played a role in the decision to purchase an incomplete system. The source said that staff had been told that the computerized system which was to be installed within the Area Control Centre (ACC) at the tower by IntelCan would include two specially made computers; however, only one computer was installed. “We are being told that it has to do with costs and that they were cutting back on the spending,“ a source commented.

Among concerns expressed by staff was the design of the communications system which was installed within the two main facilities at the tower – the ACC and the tower cab located on the uppermost floor of the tower. A source noted that the microphone used by the controllers to communicate with aircraft pilots is also used for answering the telephones in the two facilities, and that in each facility, “only one controller can man the new communication system.

When one of the phones rings, you have to key the mike and press a button on the new console and take the call… what if you are taking important information and you’re also busy separating your air traffic and talking to the pilot on a busy day?“ a staff member asked.

It was noted too that a computerized printer which was installed to record information for pre-planned flights and on which the air traffic controllers record information relative to flights, was creating added work for the controllers since data relevant to each flight has to be first entered into the computer. At the same time the information which is printed on the flight strips is sometimes erroneous, “so some people resort to manually writing the information on the strip as was done before,“ a source said. To compound issues, it was pointed out by the controllers that  the previous colour-coded flight strips now bear a uniform  white colour, an ‘upgrade‘ which most staff regarded as “confusing.“ In the past, information was recorded on strips of various colours, depending on the direction and type of flight.

Meantime, Stabroek News was told that initially, each staff member within the technical department at the tower was expected to travel to Canada to be trained to operate the equipment being installed. However, only three persons were trained, including two supervisors, and reports are that the GCAA determined that it was too costly to send additional staff to undergo training. “The thing about it is that the administration of GCAA do not want to spend money on training the technicians because they think they will be more marketable,“ a source remarked.

Another source said that ideally, each staff member was expected to be trained to operate each of the newly installed pieces of equipment, including the new Instrument Landing System/Distance Measuring Equipment (ILS/DME), in order for the department to be more competent and dependable. “But you cannot use the term marketable as an excuse for not training your staff, it makes the system less reliable and a compromise of safety issues,“ a source at the airport observed.

Benn had stated in 2008 that the government was working hard to improve aviation systems and their oversight and to bring them up to modern standards. He said that the equipment currently being used for communications and air navigation systems was 25 to 30 years old and that the modern systems were necessary since the flight traffic over Guyana had increased significantly over the years.

The new system being installed is a total Air Traffic Management (ATM) system which is an automated system capable of presenting information to air traffic controllers and which is interfaced with other communication components.
In terms of new navigation equipment, the ILS infrastructure is being set up and its completion date last month was pushed back after the Canadian technician tasked with overseeing installation, sustained injuries during an accident at the airport in August.

The project has been in the making for a number of years and was advertised in 2008 in the local and international press. The current option was chosen so as to attract foreign bidders because of the nature and complexity of the project that demanded experience in similar projects as a requirement. It was said by the authorities that through this programme, the GCAA would ensure that Guyana continued to meet all of its obligations to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) air navigation.

Intelcan, which has been in existence since 1973, is touted on its website as a global leader in the field of Air Traffic Control (ATC) and aviation infrastructure. It has customers in over 60 countries around the world and works in partnership with its customers to improve the safety and efficiency of their Air Traffic Control Systems.

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