FAA tests airport circuits

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March 17, 2000

FAA tests airport circuits

Will bombard tubes with high voltage

by Scott Heimer Daily News Staff Writer

Got a flight in or out of Philadelphia International Airport this weekend?

You should make it.


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) thinks it has solved the problem that caused the air traffic control system to crash a week ago, stranding 40 aircraft overhead without any independent guidance to their destination for nearly 30 chaotic minutes.

But it's not 100 percent sure.

"It's hard for me to sit up here and guarantee that we're never going to have another 'scatter' [system crash]," said Steve Gallegos, an FAA deputy program director for Washington, D.C., operations and leader of a six-member team of investigators sent to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The problem was traced to six faulty circuit cards in the 40-year-old, vacuum-tube system, Gallegos said yesterday.

Three other circuit boards that were suspect were replaced, said Gallegos. But there are 500 such boards in the system. Gallegos said his team will spend the weekend here, poring over all 500 boards.

They'll be exposing each board to extremely high doses of voltage, which should reveal any potential problem circuits, said Dan Mullin, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Mullin, who has been critical of the situation, said yesterday he was reassured by the FAA actions.

"I feel much more confident now that you've done the best that you can do," he said. "I'm much more satisfied than I was a week ago.

"But the future will tell. There's a lot of followup work that's going to have to be done," Mullin said.

Philadelphia International is the only major airport in the country without a fail-safe backup system.

The airport's nominal backup, Naval Air Station Willow Grove, hasn't been usable because it hasn't been able to give Philadelphia air traffic controllers accurate altitude readings for the past two years, according to Mullin.

That problem has been fixed, said Alan Moore, FAA acting director for airway facilities.

"Our technical folks have. . .repaired that problem," said Moore.

"The bigger [altitude] problem has been fixed. But they feel there's more that they can do there," said Mullin. "They've told us it is available, but for emergency use only."

Philadelphia's system is a notch more modern than that of Willow Grove, officials said. But the most modern of the current Automated Radar Terminal Systems (ARTS) in the country are deployed at about five other airports elsewhere.

Why not here?

"We do not want to bring a system like that to a complex area like Philadelphia," Moore said. "It is not planned."

The air traffic control system for the 21st Century, the STARS (Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System) digital, is being tested in two small markets, El Paso, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y., officials said.


-- - (x@xxx.com), March 22, 2000

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