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STARS Fails at Syracuse and Help from FAA is Nowhere to Be Found - (7/6/2005)

WASHINGTON – The failure of the Federal Aviation Administration to adequately staff its Syracuse, N.Y., Tower and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility with enough equipment technicians turned a relatively routine failure of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System last Friday, July 1, into a 17-hour shutdown of the radar display system that reduced the margin of safety.

STARS, a system that gives TRACON controllers a large, new color monitor to display radar data along with expanded capabilities, was first installed and tested at Syracuse and El Paso, Texas.

Friday’s STARS system failure began at 4:14 p.m. EDT, with the loss of interface with adjacent air traffic facilities that handle traffic to and from Syracuse’s airspace. The interface was not returned to service until 9:30 a.m. EDT on Saturday, July 2. During the outage, controllers were forced to assume an extra layer of workload due to this loss of computer-aided transfers of an aircraft’s data between control facilities that “hand off” control of aircraft when it leaves their airspace and enters another controller’s airspace.

According to Syracuse TRACON controllers and local facility representative Bob D’Addario, it is only because of the diligence and professionalism of the controllers in the facility that no airplanes were delayed during this outage and no loss of separation occurred.

However, D’Addario added, “Anytime there is an unnecessary increase in a controller’s workload, it creates distractions and detracts from their ability to fully concentrate on their traffic. While the loss of the interface is not, in and of itself, a safety issue, any time you create unnecessary workloads on the controller, you do reduce the margin of safety available.”

One of the primary reasons for the length of the outage was that no
technicians were available or on duty at the time of the outage. The facility has
experienced a significant loss in the number of technicians and no longer provides continuous airways facilities coverage on nights or weekends.

This latest outage involving STARS comes on the heels of another STARS problem at the Boston TRACON in New Hampshire. There, the system has routinely failed to both display information on aircraft and process information correctly and has also caused situations where data on aircraft is dropped altogether.

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