Problem Grounds All Traffic Within 250 Miles
A problem traced to a faulty phone line resulted in significant
air travel delays across the southeastern US Tuesday, as all
airline traffic within 250 miles of Memphis, TN was grounded for
The Associated Press reports the problem at the Memphis Air
Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) forced controllers in adjacent
airspace to clear all high-altitude traffic from the region.
"The airspace was completely cleared by 1:30 (p.m.) Eastern
time," said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.
A 100,000-square-mile chunk of airspace was affected --
including sections over Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri,
Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana -- according to Patrick Forrey,
president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
"A major communications failure is ongoing this afternoon at
Memphis Center, leaving air traffic controllers without the ability
to use most of their radio frequencies and some of their radar
feeds as well," Forrey said in a statement to ANN. "They also have
not been able to make automated “handoffs” of flights
to adjacent airspace sectors at other en route facilities that
border Memphis Center.
"This has been a major safety problem, as controllers, at the
time of the outage around 11:30 am CDT, were thrust into an
immensely chaotic situation in which they had to use personal cell
phones to talk to other air traffic control facilities about
specific flights that they could not communicate with themselves,"
The ripple effect led to cancellations and delays at some of the
country's biggest airports... including Atlanta Hartsfield,
Nashville, and Dallas/Fort Worth International.
"At this point our operations team and the airlines operations
teams are obviously looking at the situation, and we're preparing
for the eventuality that we might have to have guests," said DFW
spokesman David Magana, adding 26 flights were held Tuesday
afternoon, with another 49 cancelled.
The problem also affected operations for FedEx, based at Memphis
Bergen did not explain what caused the "failure in
communications" Tuesday... but NATCA's Forrey says evidence points
to outdated telecommunications equipment.
"The problem appears to have been caused by a failure of the
telephone line that hosts the communications feeds to the
facility," Forrey said, also noting a display of airborne traffic
at the time showed a giant 'hole' around Memphis... "a bizarre
sight," in his words.