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  Swiss time 17:55, Tuesday 09.10.2001

Outrage at lack of radar in Milan air disaster

By Giada Zampano

MILAN (Reuters) - Italians and Scandinavians were aghast to discover that Italy's worst civil aviation disaster might have been avoided and 118 lives spared if Milan's Linate airport had only had its ground radar system working.

A Scandinavian Airlines System jet bound for Copenhagen collided on the ground with a light plane in heavy fog on Monday morning, then crashed into a hangar and burst into flames.

All 110 passengers and crew on the SAS MD-87, all four on the small Cessna and four ground baggage handlers were killed.

While it appeared certain that the pilot of the light plane was at fault for making a wrong turn, angry politicians, editorialists and pilots laid the blame on bureaucracy.

The old ground radar system at Linate, an airport often shrouded in early morning fog, was retired some two years ago.

Although a new system was delivered from Norway it had never been operational because of various technical and administrative problems which critics said should have been swiftly resolved.

The ground radar, known as Aerodrome Surveillance Monitoring Indicator (ASMI), allows the control tower to keep track of movements of aircraft and other vehicles on the ground.

Editorialists were irate over the tragic episode, saying the blame could not be placed only on the pilot of the small plane simply because he apparently ran several stop signs in the fog.

Milan's leading Corriere della Sera ran a merciless editorial accusing officials of "intolerable negligence".

"Someone will have to explain to the sons, brothers and friends of the poor dead how it was possible that an airport like Linate was for two years left to its own fate," it said.

"Worse, how is it possible that for years those who are responsible for the security of flights led everyone -- passengers, pilots, airlines -- to believe that that blasted radar was only 'temporarily out of order'?."

SHAMEFUL BUCK-PASSING

SEA, the company which runs the airport and the air traffic controllers group ENAV differed on which of them should have been ultimately responsible for installing the system.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola read aviation officials the riot act on national television on Monday night:

"Any eventual penal responsibilities will be determined by the magistrature but if there is anyone responsible they will have to pay "I think that it is shameful that in the year 2001, everyone is passing the buck."

SAS Chairman and CEO Jorgen Lindegaard, said the airline would continue to fly into Linate "with or without ground radar."

"We fly into many airports with and many airports without ground radar, therefore it is not our security arrangement to assume there is one," he told a news conference in Milan.

Vincenzo Fusco, director of Linate airport, said the controversy over the radar was exaggerated.

"Ground radar is neither indispensable nor necessary and is not required by European or Italian laws," he told Reuters. "A pilot must be familiar with the maps and layout of the airport where he is operating."

But pilots disagreed.

"If the radar was working the disaster certainly would have been avoided. The law says it is not obligatory but logic says you need it," said Osvaldo Gammino, representative of an grouping of airline pilots that fly out of Linate.

Criticism and disbelief poured in from Scandinavia, where SAS serves Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Norway's Park Air Systems, which makes advanced ground radar systems for airports, said it had delivered a radar system to Linate in 1996, but that the system had never been installed.

Oystein Narvhus, managing director at Park Air Systems, said the company, which had delivered the data processing and display part of the ground radar, was scheduled to meet its Italian partner soon to speed up implementation.

"The reason why the ground radar did not work is simple -- it was not installed," Narvhus told Reuters. "Usually, we take care of the implementation of the system, but Italian authorities delayed the installation," he said.

The radar issue arose last year when a Singapore Airlines 747 turned onto a disused runway at Taipei, tried to take off and ploughed into construction equipment. Eighty-three died.

01.01.1900 00:00, Reuters

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