ATC Display Mis-read Concerns
The UK trouble prone Swanwick air traffic control (ATC) centre is encountering display illegibility problems. Difficulties said to have been experienced include a controller plotting a route to Cardiff (Wales) airport before realising that it should have been to Glasgow (Scotland) due to the difficulty of distinguish between the code EGFF (Cardiff) and EGPF (Glasgow) on the centre's displays.
In another incident, the flight level (FL) code for 36,000 ft (FL360) was confused with that for 30,000 ft (FL300). Again, staff are understood to have reported great difficulty in distinguishing between the figures 0, 6 and 8.
Costing approximately £623 million, Swanwick (which is located in Hampshire, England) controls air traffic over the whole of Southern England and has been dogged by problems since it came on line in January 2002. Chief amongst these have been software failures that have closed down the centre, causing high levels of disruption amongst commercial flights into and out of the UK on at least three occasions.
Following on from the events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent down turn in world air traffic, the UK's partially privatised National Air Traffic Service (NATS) that runs Swanwick has been forced to take up an emergency £30 million loan from the UK government in order to continue operations and was attempting to put together a £100 million re-financing package. With regard to the specific display problems, the UK's Health and Safety Executive is understood to have begun investigating the situation during May 2002 and at the time of going to press, Swanwick's management had reported that improvements had already been made to the centre's controller displays and that a potential replacement unit was scheduled to begin tests shortly. It was also stressed that despite any problems encountered, controllers had been able to maintain safe distances between aircraft flying within the facilities control envelope.