PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar has lashed out at the authorities for downplaying alleged problems with the national air traffic control system by calling this â€œminor glitchesâ€.
She said the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) had said â€œminor glitchesâ€ had been spotted in the 26.05 million euro (RM128.4 million) system installed nationwide, while the Transport Ministry has claimed that it is â€œperforming wellâ€.
She said the statements are a far cry from complaints by Subang air traffic controllers that there are â€œclear weaknesses that render the system unstableâ€.
In a June 13 letter to Nurul Izzah, DCA director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the regulatory body had held five meetings with the Italian radar systems provider, Selex Sistemi Integriti SpA, from January to May to â€œmonitor improvements to the systemâ€.
Nurul Izzah had claimed that the Human Machine Interface (HMI) fitted to the National Air Traffic Control Centre (NATCC) has been defective since being installed on Dec 13 last year.
She based her allegations on documents she had received, the source of which could not be independently verified.
According to the documents, the NATCC director had sent out a memo to â€œall traffic controllers, in particular highlighting the inconsistency in cleared flight levelâ€.
A letter addressed to their director and dated Jan 4, had 11 signatories including NATCCâ€™s deputy director of air traffic control.
They complained that efforts to rectify the problems up to then were â€œvery disappointingâ€, and air traffic controllers had been advised to be cautious.
NATCCâ€™s systems coordinate air traffic over the entire countryâ€™s airspace and any problems in the system would compromise flight safety.
Azharuddin explained that the DCA had began upgrading the Air Traffic Control (ATC) mechanism in stages under the Malaysia Air Traffic Services Modernisation Programme since 1992, with the latest being Sibu and Tawau where the radars were fitted in 2010.
â€œWhile the ATC system was being improved in stages, Selex was then given the Certificate of Practical Completion (CPC) on Dec 21, 2011… as stated under Clauses 44 and 47 of the conditions of contract, the contractor has to â€œmake good any defects, imperfections, shrinkages or any faults whatsoeverâ€ during the Defects Liability Period which will take two years,â€ the letter states.
â€œWith that assurance from Selex though the CPC, the DCA used the new system. For your information, the new system before it was used by the DCA, was researched and a Safety Management System (SMS) was conducted as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).â€
Noting that safety is a â€œvery important aspectâ€, he said the software used in the ATC system had undergone a quality assurance process at the point of manufacture in Italy.
The letter further clarifies that the DCA is monitoring the â€œglitchesâ€ and as for the problems faced by the ATC in Subang, 78 percent have been resolved, 10 percent are being tested and 12 percent are being analysed at the Selex factory in Italy.
He also responded to Nurul Izzahâ€™s call for an audit on system, saying that the ICAO has conducted two audits on DCA and found it to be compliant with international specifications.
â€˜Absence of open tenderâ€™
However, Nurul Izzah retorted that the audits on DCA â€œdo not calm public concernâ€ as the fault is in the system and not with the regulator.
The letter however, fails to address why the project was not awarded through an open tender, when it was pointed out that Selex is embroiled in controversy, she said.
â€œIt has also come to my attention that (the contractor) was given a 5+5 years maintenance contract for this system upgrade without an open tender being conducted. I am made to understand that for the Kuala Lumpur International Airport as an example, the length of maintenance contract for a similar service is three years,â€ she said.
â€œHence, Transport Ministry must explain the length and the lack of an open tender, if indeed this is the case.â€
According to an AFP report, Selex has been investigated since 2010 over allegations that it had been given no-bid contracts by the Italian civil aviation agency Enav.
Most recently, the probe led authorities to search the home of the Vaticanâ€™s former de facto bank chief Ettore Gotti Tedeschi on June 6 for documents pertaining to the case.
Selex is also a wholly-owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica SpA, a defence company that is facing its own set of corruption allegations.
These range from claims that its former chairperson had created false invoices and slush funds to pay off politicians to allegations that its current chairperson had greased helicopter deals with India when he was the head of its subsidiary, AgustaWestland.
Finmeccanica and Selex have consistently denied any wrongdoing.