The Malta Air Traffic Services is upgrading its monitoring technology having used the same system for more than 15 years.

The centre’s IT chief, Frank Dimech, told Times of Malta the new technology would make it one of the EU’s most advanced centres.

“This will definitely put Malta on the forefront of air traffic control after years of using the same system. It will be very well received,” Mr Dimech said.

The €7 million upgrade is expected to be complete next summer and involves installing more than 20 high-powered servers and super computers that will monitor incoming and outbound flights.

Mr Dimech explained that the installation was being carried out by Italian air traffic systems specialist Sil-Ex Ltd, which was choreographing the introduction while the current system was still in use.

“We can’t just stop using the technology we had before. The skies still need to be monitored so this process is a lengthy one,” Mr Dimech said as he opened a seemingly ordinary pine door with his specialised access card to reveal a dark room housing the centre’s radar monitoring screens and interactive sky maps. Showing Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella around the room, chief operational officer Robert Sant explained that the system in place relied heavily on information sharing with a large chunk of radar coverage being provided by Italian, Greek and Tunisian systems.

Mr Sant said the current system was also prone to occasional glitches. “We experience about six blackouts a year where we have limited coverage of certain quadrants. This can be a bit touch and go, especially if a blackout lasts a whole day, which has been known to happen,” he said.

Parking problem extends to MIA

The panoramic view from the Malta International Airport air traffic control tower was rather grim yesterday as Robert Sant expressed concern at an unusual lack of space.

“We have a parking problem for planes here. Sometimes, we have to work at finding somewhere to put them,” Mr Sant, MATS chief operational officer, said.

He explained that in recent months several airlines had parked planes in the airport hangars overnight, limiting the amount of space available.

An air traffic controller present noted that several aircraft had not been able to stay overnight, lamenting: “The problem is we need more hangars but have nowhere to put them.”

The controller said that building new hangars near the runway could hinder their view of incoming and outbound flights as well as possibly interfere with radar coverage.

Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella said he would commit himself to fixing the problem.

“Fixing this might be a dream but I want to see it realised,” he said.

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