Aircraft vanish off radar screens as upgrade falls short

$20 million upgrade still not ready to take over from older system

Unresolved software problems appear to be behind delays in New Zealand’s planned radar upgrade gaining acceptance from Airways Corporation.

The $20 million upgrade from Thales International has not met three of the milestones upon which payment is progressively based.

Computerworld has been told remote control and monitoring are affected and aircraft are vanishing off air traffic controllers’ screens.

It is not, however, a safety issue because the existing radar is still operative.

The upgrade was installed in March and involved three primary and five secondary radars. Airways approved site acceptance for one of the secondary radars, despite a problem they thought could be fixed. But the same problem became evident in other equipment and site acceptance was rejected.

The communications manager for Airways, Ken Mitchell, describes the issue as an electronics one. Some incompatibility with older types of aircraft was discovered, he says.

“We’ve extended the testing phase and we’re still confident the upgrade will be completed by the end of next year,” he says.

“There are no safety issues. The radar has been installed but not commissioned.”

He says that when it is operative it will run in parallel with existing radar for several years.

Thales Air Traffic Management, in Melbourne, which is responsible for the upgrade, didn’t respond to phone calls.

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