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Tue, Apr 19, 2005

What Happened In Tampa?

Controllers Couldn't Hear Pilots For 20 Minutes Saturday

What happened in the tower at Tampa International Airport that kept controllers hearing from pilots for about 20 minutes on Saturday? The answer involves a propane leak, a fire and two five-dollar fuses, according to the FAA.

Although the problem affected air traffic around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area for only 20 minutes, causing minor delays, it all started back in February, when a contractor accidentally cut the cable that feeds power from an airport generator. Authorities in the tower thought that problem had been completely fixed -- but they were wrong. The cable was still severed when the power ran out on Saturday.

They also thought the emergency backup generator was in good shape. Again, they were mistaken. The propane tanks that fuel that generator had developed a leak.

Then there were the five-buck fuses. Two of them failed for one reason or another, kicking off the series of events that eventually kept controllers from hearing pilots in the air.

Well, the fuses have been replaced. The cable has been repaired and the propane leaks have been plugged. But critics say Saturday's failures are more proof that the air traffic system is crumbling and the FAA, which has been cutting costs, needs to reinvest -- quickly.

FMI: www.faa.gov


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