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Fri, Sep 17, 2004

FAA: LA ARTCC Outage Blamed On Maintenance

The Repairman Was Asleep At The Switch

Tuesday's comm meltdown at the Los Angeles ARTCC facility was caused by the FAA's failure to properly maintain equipment.  So says the FAA itself.

The disruption caused hundreds of flights in and out of Los Angeles, San Diego, other California airports, as well as Las Vegas, to be grounded. 

The problem occurred at the control center that handles high-altitude traffic for the southern California region. 

The FAA says a preliminary investigation found a 30-day maintenance check on the primary radio and voice communications system was never made. 

The system is designed to automatically shut down after a period of time if the maintenance work is not performed. 

There is a backup communications systems, but it failed to work because it wasn't configured properly.  The FAA plans to make adjustments to the radio system to prevent future automatic shut offs in the event maintenance is not completed. The FAA says there were no safety incidents as a result of the shutdown.

In the meantime, the controllers' union, NATCA, said the comm blackout caused at least five near-misses over California and Nevada.

"Three pairs (of planes) were so close that on-board collision avoidance systems were activated," said Mark Sherry, regional vice president of the union and a controller in the San Francisco tower, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "We had three controllers who couldn't do anything but watch their screens as two dots merged into one, then wait five or six seconds and hope that two came back out."

FMI: www.laartcc.org

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