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FAA Finally Acknowledges Serious Radar Failures at Washington Center - (10/12/2005)

LEESBURG, Va. – Just days after dismissing air traffic controllers’ concerns about dangerous radar failures at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, the Federal Aviation Administration has acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and devoted necessary resources and personnel to try and find a solution. However, the serious radar failure that caused aircraft to disappear from controllers’ radar scopes has yet to be resolved.

“We’re very relieved the FAA is finally taking this situation seriously,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin said. “Controllers at Washington Center have been forced to scramble on too many occasions reacting to the mysterious equipment failures. We are disappointed that we had to take the issue public to motivate the FAA to do its job to protect the flying public and act on this problem after the agency refused to work with us internally to address it.”

The failures occurred in each of the eight areas at Washington Center. In dozens of incidents since Sept. 19, radar targets – representing an aircraft – have disappeared from controllers’ scopes. The accompanying data tag indicating flight information then moves in the direction the computer thinks the aircraft is headed, even when the aircraft is flying somewhere else while controllers are left scrambling to locate its position and keep it separated from other flights.

Initially, the FAA had trouble deciding publicly whether to admit a problem existed at all. A spokesman blamed “temporary interference” with the long-range radar. But FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told a national television audience that, “our equipment is working fine,” and said NATCA was only raising concerns because of ongoing contract negotiations.

“I think we can all agree now that the agency’s attempt to cover up the problem with its ‘contract’ sound bite proved both inaccurate and misleading,” Marlin said. “We are glad the agency is addressing the scope of the problem and working to try and fix it.”

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