Air traffic radio outage due to systems check failure

The failure to follow a system maintenance procedure may have resulted in Tuesday evening's radio communication outage that affected a large part of western airspace.

The outage grounded flights at Los Angeles International Airport and other major western airports and delayed inbound flights from elsewhere for several hours, the FAA said yesterday.

The radio communications outage occurred at the Los Angeles Enroute Air Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, Calif., which controls airspace for Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Utah.

During the nearly three-hour outage, airspace radar coverage remained fully operational and en route aircraft were safely handed off to other air traffic control facilities, as designed, FAA said. However, the agency said it would evaluate five cases in which planes reportedly flew too close to each other when pilots and air traffic controllers initially lost radio contact.

'Although FAA air traffic control systems have nearly perfect reliability, any system failure--no matter how rare--is unacceptable because of the inconvenience to air travelers and cost to the airlines,' FAA said in a statement yesterday, adding it was 'aggressively investigating' the incident.

Preliminary findings indicate that a required 30-day maintenance check on the radio and voice communications system was not performed, the agency said. The system turns off if this check is not conducted. And a backup system also failed because it was not configured properly. FAA said it is reviewing all maintenance checklists and protocols to confirm that required maintenance and operation procedures are current and are being followed.

FAA said it would add a new feature to the communications system that prevents service disruptions if periodic maintenance is not performed.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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