Fri, Sep 17, 2004
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
"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."
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