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Important En Route Center Display System Failing at High Rate - (7/22/2005)

WASHINGTON – The projectors in an en route center display system that gives controllers important real-time information are failing at a high rate and have been marked by instances of lamps exploding, sending glass shards out of the units, according to documents uncovered by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

In each of the 21 air route traffic control centers, there are typically between four and eight control areas and each has two Enhanced Status Information System (ESIS) projectors. They display not only a picture of all airborne aircraft in the country, called a Traffic Situation Display, but also give controllers the latest information on air route and flow restrictions, instructions on special spacing requirements between planes on certain routes and, most importantly, the very latest weather and satellite information.

But in the 12 centers surveyed by NATCA, 65 of the 164 ESIS projectors – 40 percent – are not working. Only four of the 13 ESIS projectors at Denver Center are working, according to Facility Representative Mike Fellows, which is causing exceptional problems during this, the annual season of thunderstorms.

“It’s critical this time of year to know where the thunderstorms are and where they’re going and right now, this system is just not working,” Fellows said. “Here at Denver Center, we especially use this system on our arrival routes. When it shows weather over a particular route, we can quickly see whether we can move aircraft to another route. When the projector doesn’t work, it means individual deviations for aircraft and a lot more manual coordination. It’s a much less efficient way to move the traffic. Bottom line: More delays.”

The other centers surveyed were Albuquerque, Boston, Cleveland, Fort Worth, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, New York, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Washington.

According to a document uncovered by NATCA, called “ESIS Issue Paper #2,” dated Jan. 12, 2005, in May 2004, several centers experienced numerous instances where ESIS projector lamps exploded, with glass shards ejecting from the machine’s front air vent, “resulting in a critical safety issue.” The document states, “To mitigate the safety aspects of the issue, the manufacturer, Optoma engineered a positive air-flow screen housing to prevent glass shards from ejecting out of the units. In the interim, since air traffic had declared this system critical to air traffic control, some sites had already began to install locally modified screens to contain the glass shards, which inadvertently, voided the manufacturers warranty.”

The current issue, according to the report, is that, “as new bulbs are being installed, and operating as designed, the modified protective screens are now causing the projectors to over-heat, tripping the temperature protection circuitry, and causing the projectors to shut down. Recently, these failures have begun to increase across the NAS, with the result that the ESIS projectors at many of the ARTCC’s are out of service.”

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