Transport Minister Dinh La Thang has demanded a top to bottom review of Vietnam's aviation sector to determine whether foul play contributed to a blackout at Tan Son Nhat’s air traffic control center last Thursday.
At a meeting held Monday, Thang said the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) and Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation must identify and punish any and all parties who played a role in the incident.
“If necessary, we'll launch a criminal investigation into the individual who's directly responsible [for the blackout] to see if he shut down the power system on purpose,” VnExpress quoted him as saying.
Investigators say that Le Tri Tinh, the chief technician charged with overseeing power supply at the Ho Chi Minh City Area Control Center, caused a 90-minute blackout that crippled the center's ability to direct planes over southern Vietnam.
The Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation released a statement saying that Tinh caused a malfunction to the center’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices.
The center’s electricity is routed through three UPS units that are specifically designed to a prevent sudden blackout.
Most UPS devices can maintain power to a distressed system for a relatively short period of time to allow users time to fire up an alternative power source or properly shut down the protected equipment.
UPS backups are typically used in hospitals to keep life support systems from shutting down or in data centers to prevent the loss of information.
The recent post-incident inspection found that Tinh failed to safely isolate a defective UPS device, which led to the collapse of the entire system.
The resulting blackout affected 92 flights.
Over 54 aircraft suspended in HCMC’s Flight Information Region (FIR) immediately fell under the control of the control center in Hanoi.
Pilots were told to circle Tan Son Nhat or land at nearby airports.
Departing flights were delayed by as much as five hours.
Thang said the incident not only affected the carriers and threatened flight safety, but also damaged the prestige of the country’s transport industry.
He gave the CAAV and the corporation until December 10 to finalize the results or their investigation.
Thang said the ministry will also set up a special council to clean house.
“Every employee that's been assessed as weak will have to be fired," he said. "Those who received average performance reviews will be trained again, and if they fail to improve, the company will have to end their contracts.”
A report produced by the corporation showed that around 40 percent of employees were reviewed as either weak or average.
"Every employee that's been assessed as weak will have to be fired. Those who received average performance reviews will be trained again, and if they fail to improve, the company will have to end their contracts.” --Transport Minister Dinh La Thang orders the Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation to clean house.
The findings noted that although air traffic controllers are required to communicate with pilots in English, 31 percent don't meet the basic language level requirements.
A number of air traffic controllers are not aware of the life-and-death importance of their job and thus are not always focused at work, the report said.
An investigation into a close call at Tan Son Nhat Airport found that an air traffic control supervisor failed to properly relay messages from the civil and military air traffic controllers.
Because civilian air traffic controllers communicate with pilots in English and the latter in Vietnamese, the supervisor is supposed to monitor and relay any and all pertinent information.
The supervisor's lack of attention led to an Air Force helicopter taking off soon after a Vietnam Airlines plane on October 29.
On Tuesday, the company said a Vietnam Airlines’ Airbus aircraft received an order to take off at 11:42 a.m.
Nine seconds later, a military officer cleared a helicopter to take off as part of a training session involving three other helicopters. A Vietnam Airlines source said the plane had ascended to 500 feet (around 152 meters) when the pilots spotted the helicopter hovering around 200 feet (61 meters) in front of it.
Officials said the supervisor in charge could have intervened if he/she had paid due attention to both controllers.
Thang blamed a poor recruitment process and lack of training for the errors at the Monday meeting.
During another meeting held early this month on the training offered to aviation employees that was attended by CAAV officials, Thanh blamed nepotism.
“Vietnamese aviation firms suffer from low-quality human resources because airport and air traffic management companies find it hard to educate their staff, who are the children or relatives of the firms’ leaders,” he said.