CAAV suspends two for air traffic control blackout at Tan Son Nhat

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The first passengers arrive at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City after a blackout at the air control center on November 20. 2014. Photo: Mai Vong The first passengers arrive at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City after a blackout at the air control center on November 20. 2014. Photo: Mai Vong


Vietnam's aviation authorities suspended a technician and a senior air traffic controller at Tan Son Nhat Airport on Thursday afternoon for a blackout that affected more than dozens of flights.
The 75 minute blackout began at the Ho Chi Minh Area Control Center at 11:11AM.
Following the loss of power, an emergency back-up plan went into effect for the first time in the country’s aviation history wherein every plan in Ho Chi Minh City’s Flight Information Region (FIR) fell under the control of the Hanoi center of Vietnam Air Traffic Management Company.
The issue was resolved and normal operations were resumed at 12:40PM.
Director Lai Xuan Thanh of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) flew to Ho Chi Minh City on Friday night to launch an investigation into the cause of the blackout.
Thanh told Tuoi Tre that the blackout didn't simply stem from a problem in the control center's main power source, but from a malfunction in its uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices, which are supposed to provide near instantaneous backup power in such situations.
“[Such a blackout] has never happened before," Thanh said. "After this, Vietnam's Air Traffic Management Company must examine its entire power system. This is a serious technical problem.”
Thanh said there were 54 flights in Ho Chi Minh City’s FIR at the time of the blackout, according to radar images.
“The lucky thing is no fights were exposed to safety risks, none of them got dangerously close,” he said.
Incoming pilots were forced to circle or land at nearby airports--some relied on pre-radar methods to land.
Still tallying up the damages
Le Truong Giang, a spokesman for Vietnam Airlines, said five of their flights had to be diverted, four others had to circle in the air for 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile 36 flights had their departures delayed.
Director Le Hong Ha of Jestar Pacfic said an incoming Singapore flight had to spend 50 minutes circling and 32 others were delayed 30 to 90 minutes.
A source from VietJet Air said they have not calculated the blackout's precise impact on their business.
Director Phan Le Hoan of Cam Ranh International Airport near the central resort town Nha Trang, said the blackout affected four domestic and international flights that took off from Cam Ranh.
Hoan said a Russia-bound UTAir charter flight departed at 10:53AM and had to return at 4:14PM.
A representative from Anex Tour said they had to find emergency accommodation and food for 235 passengers until they could depart at 2AM on Friday.
“We suffered significant losses, while many tourists expressed fatigue and insecurity,” the tour operator said. 
It remains unclear why the blackout in Ho Chi Minh City forced the charter flight to return to Nha Trang. An Anex representative said the flight "had a problem" and referred any further inquiries regarding to UTAir, which does not appear to have an office in Vietnam. 

People await incoming flights at Tan Son Nhat Airport on November 20, 2014 after a blackout at the air traffic control tower delayed a still unknown number of flights. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
Hung, a passenger from Hue, said he was scheduled to arrive at Tan Son Nhat at 12:30PM.
“As we neared Saigon, we were informed that the aircraft could not make a normal landing.”
He said the plane had to turn back and land in Danang, where it waited an hour before proceeding to Ho Chi Minh City.
Thanh, the director of the CAAV, said they haven't yet determined precisely how many flights were affected by the blackout, but he said three international transit flights were held and many others were delayed well beyond their departure times.
Tan Son Nhat's terminals, which maintained power throughout the incident, felt a bit chaotic as confused locals waited for hours friends, relatives and customers.
Meanwhile, frustrated departing passengers were loaded on and off planes, with little explanation.
Long, tiring wait
Many at the airport complained about a lack of information during the hours they spent waiting.
Minh said his company had sent him to fetch a customer arriving from Danang who had been scheduled to arrive at 11:35AM.
He had to wait until around 3PM to pick him up.
“We waited more than five hours. Everyone was starved and exhausted but no one gave us food or even a bottle of water.”
- Du Hai, a VietJet Air passenger 

“I heard nothing about the delays. I checked the flight info screens but there were no updates. Only when I called my company did I learn about the blackout and that my customer's flight had been diverted,” he told Tuoi Tre.
Du Hai, a VietJet Air passenger, said he arrived an hour early for his 7:45AM flight to Hanoi.
After checking in and going through security, he and other passengers were told that their flight would be delayed until 10:30AM.
“Everyone was already tired when they settled into their seats. Then we waited 15 minutes...then 30 ...then 45 minutes and the plane just didn't take off.
“Many passengers, including foreigners, started to react and asked for refund. But the staff only explained that there had been a technical issue. They finally opened the plane and let us back into the terminal. We couldn't do anything, but carry our luggage in and wait.”
Hai said his flight only took off after 1PM.
“We waited more than five hours. Everyone was starved and exhausted but no one gave us food or even a bottle of water.”

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