By Lee Hyo-sik
The air traffic control tower at Incheon International Airport was paralyzed for nearly an hour Wednesday morning, putting commercial airplanes flying in the country’s airspace at the risk of potential mid-air collisions.
While no accidents were reported, nearly 20 aircraft were forced to take off behind schedule, causing inconvenience to air travelers, airport officials said. Dozens more planes in Japan and China had to depart later than originally scheduled.
According to the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Thursday, a flight-data processing computer server of the Air Traffic Center (ATC) began malfunctioning at 10:31 a.m. Wednesday, making it impossible for controllers to identify aircraft in their controlled airspace, as well as their flight altitudes and courses.
However, what caused the glitch has yet to be determined.
The center controls about 1,400 commercial airplanes departing from and landing at local airports every day. It also guides planes passing through the country’s airspace.
Following the computer glitch, the ministry asked airports across the country to delay plane departures for up to 30 minutes.
The ministry also notified aviation authorities in Japan and China of the malfunction, requesting them to hold up departures of flights that pass through Korea’s air space.
``The flight-data processor did not operate for 57 minutes Wednesday morning. But it is not true that the whole air traffic control system broke down. The glitch forced 18 flights nationwide to take off behind schedule. But planes making landings faced no problems,’’ a ministry official said.
He said the computer server was restored at 11:28 a.m. after being rebooted, stressing there was almost zero chance of a mid-air collision.
``We are trying to find exactly what caused the server to malfunction. We will get to the bottom of the problem and take all possible measures to prevent this from happening again,’’ the official said.
But an airline industry official said a similar breakdown can occur and cause air-traffic chaos because the country has only one centralized control system.
``Most countries operate more than one central air traffic control center so that if one malfunctions, the other can maintain order. We should do the same,’’ he said.
For years, the government has been considering establishing a back up control center outside the Seoul Metropolitan Area, but has failed to put the plan into practice.