New air traffic control centre launched

SINGAPORE - Singapore has opened a new air traffic control centre that should cut delays for travellers, both in the air and on the ground.

It was launched on Monday by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew and Mr Yap Ong Heng, director- general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), at the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit lunch.

The centre, located in Changi but not in the airport, houses a sophisticated air traffic management system developed by French aerospace group Thales at a cost of more than $300 million.

"The new system will enhance our operational capabilities, safety, efficiency and it helps us meet future demand," said Mr Rosly Saad, air traffic services director at the CAAS.

It is expected to allow Changi Airport to handle a growing number of flights more efficiently.

For travellers, this means shorter waits before take-off and during landings, although it is difficult to quantify the time savings.

The capacity of such systems is not measured in terms of aircraft movements, said the CAAS in a media statement. "Like computers, their capacity is measured in terms of the amount of information they can process."

Changi Airport had first rolled out measures to tackle aircraft movement delays two years ago.

It studied ways to maximise runway efficiency and invested in additional manpower and equipment to expedite runway checks.

It also reviewed its stance on planes taking off on the basis of "first-come-first-served", as a longer window of time is needed for a small aircraft taking off after a big plane than vice versa.

To address this, the new Long Range Radar and Display System (Lorads) III system comes with a smart decision-making tool that helps air traffic controllers line up planes more efficiently to minimise their separation distances.

Air traffic controllers issue these distances to keep aircraft apart from one another sufficiently to avoid collision or wake turbulence. The greater the distance, the longer aircraft must wait to land or take off.

Separation distances differ based on many factors, like aircraft size and the type of technology being used on the aircraft and on the ground, said Mr Saad.

"The more advanced the equipment is on both the plane and the ground, the more able we are to reduce distances."

The new system has more efficient information displays like touch screens and backup capabilities. It can handle up to four times the amount of aircraft information than its predecessor.

It is equipped with improved sensors that can pinpoint aircraft more accurately, up to 500 nautical miles instead of 250 nautical miles, noted Mr Kwek Chin Lin, head of air traffic management operations systems at CAAS.

The system, which started operating in October last year, is linked to control towers at Changi and Seletar airports. It has been running smoothly so far, he said.

Its introduction comes at a time when air traffic growth in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow 6 to 7 per cent annually for the next three to five years.

Air traffic is projected to expand here by about 5 per cent a year until the end of the decade.

The CAAS is holding trials with partners in Vietnam to reduce separation distances on flights over the South China Sea, to allow more planes to ply the air route. It plans to do the same with Hong Kong counterparts, said Mr Saad.

All 300 or so air-traffic controllers here have been trained to use the new system. CAAS aims to recruit 80 more this year, he added.

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