At January 27 Dutch Public Prosecution Service sent a message to the next of kin. The message was:
This investigation has revealed that the data were supplied in an unusual format. Rules set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) include requirements for radar data used in international investigations. Data complying with these requirements can be interpreted and verified responsibly for any manipulations and errors. Despite the fact that the Russian Federation is a member state of the Convention of International Civil Aviation and has acknowledged the aforementioned ICAO rules, the data supplied by the Russian Federation do not comply with these requirements.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service did not release a press release about this news.
Soon media started to report about this. Dutch Telegraaf stated “Radara data is unuseable”. The Public Prosecution Service requested Russia to send the radar data again in ICAO required format.
This is basically a repeat of the radar data discussion during the DSB investigation. Read my blogpost here.
This message of the Prosecutor raises a couple of questions:
- What is the format of the radar data which was handed over by Russia?
- What is the required format of the radar data as stated by ICAO?
- Why did it take the Prosecutor about 3 months to find out the data is not good enough and complex to understand.
The response of the Public Prosecution Service
At January 30 I spoke to Wim de Bruin, spokesman of the Prosecution Service and asked him the three questions listed above.
His answer to question 1: “I cannot tell you because this is a criminal investigation”
His answer to question 2: “ask ICAO”. When I responded that it is remarkable Prosecution Service states data is not in required format but cannot tell what the required format is, the response was “I do not have the technical knowledge to tell what format the data should have”.
Anwer to question 3: “it is not that easy to just watch a video file with a video player’.
So the anwers are really not of any use.
So let me try to answer these questions.
Anwer to question 1:
The format the data was in, is hard to guess. If it was just a video file, why would it take the prosecutor three months to declare the data is unusable? For sure the format was not in ASTERIX as this is the format Dutch Safety Board (DSB) prefers radar recordings to be in. Michiel Schuurman– Senior Air Safety Investigator at DSB, wrote an interesting paper titled Using “ASTERIX” in accident investigation
Likely the data was in a non-standard format used by Russian radar stations but not by Western made radar stations. It could be DSB experts were able to understand some parts of the data, but not all. Maybe because Russia uses a different coordinates system.
Answer to question 2:
ICAO does not have requirements for the format of radar data. It is as simple as that!
Annex 11 paragraph 6.4.1 states that surveillance data (like primary radar data) should be automatically recorded and retained for at least 30 days.
There is no mention at all about the format the recording should be.
This is confirmed in an interview with ICAO which took place in January 2016. Members of the Dutch Parliament had an interview with ICAO. The transcript of the interview is here.
ICAO also states in the interview that ICAO has guidelines. What ICAO states in an Annex are guidelines. Not hard law. No requirements. The hard law is the legislation of a nation.
In 2016 I contacted ICAO to conform there are no ICAO requirements on the format of data.
The response of ICAO was
ICAO does provide some guidance, however it is by no means prescriptive and simply clarifies that recorded data should support investigations, for instance where the purpose is to replay the scenario as might have been seen or experienced by the air traffic controller.
This would include, for instance, synchronizing the displayed radar data with the voice communications (air-ground and grounds-ground), that are also required to be recorded.
So how come Dutch Prosection Service states Russian Federation should present the radar recordings in ICAO required format?
Because it is politics. In the DSB final report the same discussion was done. DSB stated Russia should hand over raw data. Russia handed over a video recording which is fine according to ICAO. However ICAO guidelines are not targeted for criminal investigations. So ICAO does not have requirements for data format to make sure radar data cannot be manipulated.
Probably Dutch Prosection Service knows Russia has raw radar data and wants to force Russia to hand over the raw data.
Answer to question 3:
Hard to tell why it took Dutch Public Prosecution Service three months to state the data is not in a required format. The best guess is politics. It is a repeat of the DSB final report process.