Vietnam cracks down on personnel in wake of control tower blackout, near collision

By Mai Ha, Thanh Nien News

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Air traffic controllers at Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation. Photo: Mai Ha Air traffic controllers at Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation. Photo: Mai Ha


Leaders from the Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation and related agencies are reviewing their responsibility for several serious errors, including a near-collision and a blackout at Tan Son Nhat International Airport's air traffic control tower.
Dinh Viet Thang, the corporation's general director, signed a recent order calling for a top-to-bottom staff review on Thursday.
The review was ordered Transport Minister Dinh La Thang on November 24.
The general director said the corporation’s board chairman, Hoang Thanh, and his deputies will also review their individual roles in the incidents.
He said the Air Traffic Control division must scrutinize itself for the near collision on October 29, and the Technology division for the 90-minute power cut at Ho Chi Minh City Area Control Center, which crippled its ability to direct planes over southern Vietnam on November 20.
An investigation into the close call at Tan Son Nhat found that an air traffic control supervisor failed to properly relay messages from the civil and military air traffic controllers.
Meanwhile, an investigation into the blackout found it was caused by a malfunction in the center’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS), or battery backup, devices.
Le Tri Tinh, the chief technician charged with overseeing the power at the air traffic control tower reportedly failed to safely isolate a defective UPS device, which led to the collapse of the entire system.
Tran Cong, deputy general director of the company’s technical department, Le Van Tinh, head of the company’s tech support center, and Nguyen Quoc Phu, the center’s deputy director were all suspended pending an investigation into their roles in the incident.
Leaders of the Southern Air Traffic Management Company, the corporation’s subsidiary in HCMC, were also ordered to consider how they could have avoided the incident.
The officials have until the end of this month to review any and all personal failures that may have contributed to the blackout, which caused significant delays in for both arriving and departing flights.
The air traffic corporation has also acted on the transport minister’s call to clean house.
On Friday, the corporation's leadership announced that it had suspended the employment contracts of ten air traffic controllers who failed to improve their English skills after numerous trainings.
All air traffic controllers are required to speak Level 4 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) English or above.
The top of that scale, level 6, is considered Expert, or equivalent to native fluency.
Pilots all over the world communicate with air traffic control towers in English.
However, an internal appraisal conducted by the corporation, which employs roughly 500 air traffic controllers found that 130 (31 percent of the nation's workforce) functioned below Level 4 – Operational.
The corporation claimed it immediately remanded 60 of the 130 controllers who failed their test to further training.  
The first group of 30 problem controllers was tested again in November.
Only 20 met their proficiency requirements.
The ten who failed again were suspended without pay and are expected to continue to study. 
If they fail again, they will be sacked, the head of the corporation said.
He said the other 70 underperforming controllers will continue to train and will be tested in December.
At that time, the corporation will determine whether to assign them to other jobs, cut their salaries, suspend or fire them.
“We are determined to remove those who have continued to fail despite their repeated training,” he said.
At a meeting held on November 24, Transport Minister Thang said that any employee who has been assessed as weak must 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.”

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