Vietnam arrests technician blamed for blackout at Tan Son Nhat airport

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An aircraft takes off behind the Ho Chi Minh City Area Control Center, which directs every plane going in and out of southern Vietnam. The tower suffered a 90-minute blackout on November 20, 2014 that has affected dozens of flights. Photo: Bach Duong An aircraft takes off behind the Ho Chi Minh City Area Control Center, which directs every plane going in and out of southern Vietnam. The tower suffered a 90-minute blackout on November 20, 2014 that has affected dozens of flights. Photo: Bach Duong

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Police on Thursday arrested a technician who allegedly was responsible for a 90-minute power outage at the control tower of the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City last month.
Police searched the workplace of Le Tri Tinh on Thursday morning, Nguyen Dinh Cong, deputy general director of the Southern Air Traffic Management Company, told local news website VnExpress.
Tinh, head of the company’s technological support center, had been suspended since November 23, three days after he allegedly caused a malfunction to the control tower's uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices.
The incident left the tower without radar for 90 minutes on November 20. As a result, dozens of planes could not take off or land at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Incoming pilots were forced to circle or land at nearby airports while departing flights were delayed by as much as five hours.
Tran Cong, deputy general director of the company's technical department, and Nguyen Quoc Phu, the technological support center's deputy head, were also suspended following the outage.
Transport Minister Dinh La Thang said the incident not only affected the carriers and threatened flight safety, but also discredited the country’s transport industry.
Thang also said the ministry would set up a special panel tasked with cleaning up the country’s aviation sector.
“Every employee rated as weak has to be dismissed," he said. "Those who receive average performance reviews will be trained again, and if they fail to improve, the company will have to terminate their contracts,” Thang told the Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation at a recent meeting.
A report produced by the corporation showed that around 40 percent of employees were reviewed as either weak or average.
Worse still, 31 percent of air traffic controllers failed to reach Level 4 of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) English proficiency requirements.
According to ICAO requirements, pilots, air traffic controllers, and all others who use English to communicate on international routes are required to speak Level 4 ICAO English (Operational) or above.
While Vietnam's air safety record is reasonably good, a string of recent incidents have raised alarm among travelers in the country.
Last month, a Vietnam Airlines plane was about to take off from Tan Son Nhat airport when a military helicopter turned sharply and cut into the path of the commercial jet.
Investigations later found that the bilingual air traffic supervisor failed to relay critical information provided by a Vietnamese-speaking military air traffic controller to the English-speaking Vietnam Airlines pilot.
In July, two planes nearly collided at Da Nang airport in central Vietnam after an air traffic control intern instructed a Jetstar Pacific airplane to taxi out to a runway where a Vietnam Airlines plane had just landed.
Addressing a meeting of aviation officials in early November, Minister Thang blamed the problem on 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.
 

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