Airways NZ gets software facelift

Airways New Zealand is to almost double the number of its software developers as it replaces its aging air traffic management system.

Airways New Zealand is to almost double the number of its software developers as it replaces its aging air traffic management system.

The move comes as the state-owned enterprise has been short-listed as one of two possible suppliers of air traffic control to swathes of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The multimillion-dollar renovation and potential deal follow the signing of a partnership agreement last year with US aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin, which includes setting up an Asia-Pacific technology centre in Christchurch with LM.

Deadlines passed this week for the eight software vacancies, which when filled will add to the existing 12 staff at the Christchurch centre.

Airways group manager of technology support Andrew Griffith says part of the agreement with Lockheed was Airways upgrading the existing Aircat air traffic control system to LM’s SkyLine system. Launched in 1991, the Kiwi-developed Aircat is reaching capacity constraints and the end of its economic life.

In the next few months, Airways also hopes to hear if it will supply its locally developed Oceanic Control System (OCS) to the US Federal Aviation Authority to look after air traffic in the North Pacific, Atlantic and Alaska. OCS is claimed to be the world’s first fully computerised satellite-based air traffic management system, first used here in 1997. The potential “multimillion-dollar deal” also includes training air traffic controllers and technical people.

Lockheed Martin originally developed Skyline in the US, but the first components of it arrived in New Zealand a few weeks ago and it is now being installed in Christchurch. Over the next two years, it will be upgraded in “a 50-50 development project” with Lockheed Martin and gradually rolled out across New Zealand by the end of 2003.

SkyLine will replace all radar and flight data processing computer and display equipment in Airway’s Christchurch, Ohakea and Auckland control centres and 17 control towers. It will comprise more than 85 radar, flight data and other operating positions and 130 computers. The radar screens consist of two full-colour displays using the same screens as in OCS, which monitors planes by satellite. The software has in-built protection mechanisms to ensure continued operations in the event of computer failure. Griffith says air traffic safety should improve as Skyline has new features, including a warning system that alerts aircraft when they go near mountainous terrain.

Its arrival is unrelated to current air traffic control problems, which are due to staffing and industrial matters, says Griffith.

Last October, Airways also launched a website to give pilots access to real-time, pre-flight information and flight plans.

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