NEWS Radar blackout causes chaos at Sydney Airport

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald/Bloomberg

There was major chaos this morning after a complete radar failure at Australia’s busiest airport. Air Traffic Controllers had to land planes manually, severely reducing the amount of landings. Manual landings can see 15 movements per hour compared to an average 50 movements per hour when there no radar issues. The fault, now corrected, was a system software failure that failed to convert operations from night shift to day shift. This led to only one console working instead of the usual six to eight.

Ground delays were also put in place at other airports such as Melbourne and Brisbane to help reduce traffic at Sydney. The fault happened at 5.20am. Sydney airport has a 11pm-6am curfew. It took 3 hours to rectify the issue leading to extensive flow down delays for the entire Australian network.

Virgin Australia passengers have told local media that flight plans had to be submitted by fax to be processed by ATC. One Qantas passenger also told local media that those on board QF506 could only leave the plane if they had no checked baggage, leaving the other passengers to spend 1 hour waiting onboard.

ATC recordings have one pilot describing Sydney skies at the time as a “ghost town.”

Airservices Australia is the government owned organisation in charge of ATC, ARFF and other services in the Australian Aviation Industry. There has been cost-cutting at the organisation that has resulted in a net 700 job losses. Airservices insists these loses have only been in backroom positions and no front line services have been affected.

They have ruled out a cyber attack and have released the following statement:

“Airservices experienced a software issue affecting Sydney Airport’s air traffic control and management system, resulting in major disruptions to flight operations this morning.

The software fault failed to convert from night-shift operations to day-shift operations, consequently one air traffic control console was operational for the morning peak when in normal circumstances six to eight consoles are operating.

The safety of the travelling public is our first priority and traffic capacity was reduced to maintain safety standards.

The fault has now been rectified, and Airservices is now working to resume to normal operations and clear the backlog of flights. Airservices is confident that it was not a cyber incident, it was a software failure.

The back log of flights is expected to be cleared by early afternoon. Airservices is urging passengers to contact their airline for details of their flight status.”