ATM Project, a white elephant in the making?

Existing control center can do job

February 8, 2011

Besides being expensive, the Japanese-funded air traffic management (ATM) project of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) was hit for allegedly being “flawed,” “futile” and “redundant” since existing air traffic facilities can very well handle the anticipated increase in international and domestic flights in the next five years.

Airport sources have said that the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) System Project worth P13 billion should be quashed because the existing Manila Air Control Center (MACC) can still effectively manage air traffic.
At the most, the sources added, an upgrade of the MACC should be undertaken.

Questions on the propriety of the CNS/ATM project came after the DOTC awarded Package 1 of the project to Sumitomo/Thales Joint Venture on December 23, 2010.

This phase costs P4.2 billion. 

Thales is reputed to be the world leader in ATM systems and civil radars and has a 70-percent market share in the navigation aids market.

The CNS/ATM project has seven major components—the construction of the air traffic management automation, communications, navigation, surveillance, meteorological system, consulting services and land acquisition.

It aims to achieve greatest operational flexibility, airspace capacity and system efficiency.

The losing bidders were Marubeni Corp. (Indra Systemas), Selex Sistemi-Kanematsu Cor. Joint Venture and Sojitz Corp. (Rayheon Corp.).

The scope of Package 2, which is yet to be awarded, includes the installation of an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Ground Station, En-route Radar (Secondary Surveillance Radar Mode-S), Terminal Radar (Airport Surveillance Radar/Secondary Surveillance Radar), VHF Terminal and Remote Control Air-Ground (RCAG) Communications facility, Microwave link and Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT).

White elephant
Officials from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP) who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, said that instead of embarking on a “complex” project, the DOTC should just put the newly upgraded MACC into action.

CAAP insiders said that the MACC, at a fraction of the cost of the new CNS/ATM with almost the same functionality, is ready for commissioning.

This was echoed by an executive of the company that constructed the new MACC.

During an interview with The Manila Times, he said that the government constructed the new MACC to replace the 13-year-old MACC at a cost of only P290.8 million.

But the executive pointed out that the proponent has been waiting since June 3,2010 for the CAAP to commission the project.

“Even though they completed the project, it’s going to be a white elephant.

Something that you don’t need the capacity,” the source said, stressing that CAAP does not even have the controllers to operate the CNS/ATM, which is “very complex.”

“We have deficiency in controllers, that’s why the new MACC is yet to be fully operational,” the source noted.

CAAP at present has about 65 controllers monitoring the 13-year-old ATM.

The current system that it uses only relies on three consoles or work stations that could handle the north, south, east and west sectors of about 1,000 flights a day.

“Four years from now, what will happen? The CNS/ATM is not going to solve the problem in Philippine aviation,” the source further stressed.

The consortium that won the contract for the new MACC include Revere Construction and Supply, CS Soft Inc. and Enhanced Electronics and Communications Services Inc.

The design of the new MACC is based on current technology as prescribed by the latest Eurocontrol and International Civil Aviation Organization requirements for automation.

It has 12 consoles that can monitor up to 4,000 flights and beyond a day.

Under Package 1 of the CNS/ATM project, latest generation Eurocat ATM systems will be used nationwide, together with an integrated Digital Voice Control System, Aeronautical Information System, Automated Message Handling System, ATN Router, GNSS monitoring and metrological systems.

In addition, a completely new ATC operations center will be constructed, which will house the new systems and consolidate the current Manila Area and Approach Control Centers into one facility.

Redundant, ambitious
In a letter to Glicerio Sicat, DOTC undersecretary for air and rail transportation, “concerned CAAP personnel” said that “the project encompasses ambitious upgrade in all fronts of CNS/ATM, all to be implemented within 3 years even if traffic is not that much.”

The letter added that the current traffic in the whole Philippines is only 1,000 a day and growth of significant levels in the future will come mostly from domestic carriers.

Citing a forecast from the International Air Transport Association, the CAAP personnel said that international traffic will be a “relative slow growth.”

“This means more flights will demand more air traffic services in Visayas and Mindanao, which in turn will demand better radar and communication coverage.

This is not an expensive issue because the existing radar and radio communication in Cebu will need a little enhancement to cover more effectively both Vsayas and Mindano airspace,” the letter said.

It added that the new MACC can cover not only the Philippine in-land airspace but also the oceanic airspace by the introduction of Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS) and Controller Pilot Data Link Communication system.

“In other words, we could save this cost of oceanic expansion under the CNS/ATM project by only commissioning the new MACC systems. All of this is already being undertaken by MACC Upgrade Project,” the letter said.

In comparison, the upgrade of the new MACC would only cost P550 million, way below the CNS/ATM Package 1 that costs P4.2 billion.

Given this, the concerned CAAP employees recommended that the project be aborted or just install the ATM in Cebu, as an active back-up because decommissioning the MACC upgrade just to install and recommission it in Cebu would be unnecessary.

The Mactan ACC’s main function would be to handle all south-sector traffic, majority of which are domestic flights.

South sector accounts for about 50-percent to 60-percent traffic of the Philippine airspace.

It added that Mactan will serve as contingency system to handle north, east and west sectors in case Manila ACC bogs down and vice versa.

The letter suggested that the government should reinforce the Manila Approach, which has one radar each for area control and approach control.

These two air traffic control facilities are handling congested traffic at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. because of limitation of runway, which has a capacity of only 30 traffic a hour.
At daytime, actual traffic is more than 30 a hour.

“Breakdown of any radar in Manila will mean enormous delays for both airlines and passengers. Considering that the Tagaytay radar is not on the list of ICAO Certified Civil Radar and has a record of a yearly breakdown, redundant radar for 2 ATC facilities will ensure continuous operation of traffic at NAIA,” the letter said.

“We do not want a repeat of September 13, 2009 chaos in MIA [Manila International Airport] wherein all flights between 3 p.m. (and) 9 p.m. were stopped due to UPS breakdown of Manila ACC, which had only 1 power supply line,” it added.

Other sources from CAAP, however, disagreed with arguments that the country does not need the CNS/ATM project.

“If you make a wrong prediction in the statistics or traffic volume what will happen? It’s alarming. To whom are they liable? They are only liable to their contractor. But our consultant is liable to the government,” one CAAP official said.

“Some people are playing with lives,” he added.

The CAAP official said that one particular group wants to shoot down the CNS/ATM program in order to push their own project.

“If CNS/ATM will not push through, some companies will take over the project.

There are some who are disqualified and want to go back to the table through the backdoor,” he added.

P13-B air traffic project clean, DOTC official insists

DANTE VELASCO, undersecretary for public information of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), said that the P13-billion, Japanese-funded Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) project is not tainted with corruption.

“We have conducted due diligence. It’s really clean. So, it cannot be compared with the NBN-ZTE deal,” Velasco added, stressing that the project is the medium and long-term solution to address all aviation problems in the country.

The proposed $330-million National Broadband Network project between the Philippines and China’s ZTE Corp. was canceled for allegedly being tainted with corruption.

Velasco last week said that the new Manila Air Control Center (MACC) and CNS/ATM project are not the same.

“The MACC covers only the portion of the air space of the Philippines, but the CNS/ATM covers the whole air space of the country. These are two different projects. But [they are] complementary to each other. There’s no competition and no conflict,” he added.

Velasco said that based on the masterplan that was approved by DOTC, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the MACC will serve as the official back-up of the CNS/ATM.

“Under the masterplan, the MACC will eventually be transferred to Mactan in Cebu once the CNS/ATM becomes fully operational. We have a masterplan to follow. They should follow the master plan,” he added.

Emergency system
Ken Ortiz, CAAP’s project director for CNS/ATM, told The Manila Times that the new MACC was conceptualized as an emergency system, “not a full-blown project.”

“The objective of the new MACC is to replace the old MA¬CC,” he said, adding that the existing MACC would be replaced to maintain continuous operations during the transition to a new CNS/ATM system.

According to Ortiz, the new system was critical to the aviation industry because traffic congestion has become a problem.

“We are experiencing delays in air traffic now in landing and take-off,” he said, adding that the projected traffic in the next five to 10 years cannot be managed using the old MACC.

Ortiz cited the importance of expanding the coverage of the country’s air-traffic control.

In the CNS/ATM, he said, the Philippines is installing 34 consoles or controller positions with annual aircraft movements of 374,000.

This is lower compared to Guangzhou in China with 44 controller positions at 374,000 annual aircraft movements.

In Singapore, Ortiz noted there are 72 controllers with annual aircraft movements of 262,000; Hong Kong, 89 controllers with 280,000 aircraft movements; Taiwan, 71 controllers, 335,000 aircraft movements; Beijing, 44 controllers, 488,000 aircraft movements; Shanghai, 44 with 475,000 aircraft movements; and Incheon, also 44 with 196,000 aircraft movements.

He said that they would need additional personnel once the CNS/ATM project became operational.

“There would be retooling of personnel, because it’s a new technology. This project includes training. People would be trained to adopt this new system.” Ortiz added.

The DOTC and Japan International Cooperation Agency tapped the consultancy service of Aviation Systems Consultant of Japan in joint venture with Airways International of New Zealand, Azusa Sekkei Co. of Japan and Katahira & Engineers International.


  1. MACC or ALS is incomparable to CNS/ATM. Know the difference...

  2. MACC or ALS after more than a year is still unreliable and is a disaster awaiting to happen... ask the air traffic controllers.