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FAA Communications Outage Leaves Washington Center Air Traffic Controllers in 10-Minute Chaotic Scramble To Keep Flights Safe - (10/16/2008)

LEESBURG, Va. – There has been another Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control communications failure. This time, it was a radio outage on Monday at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center that left controllers in one busy sector unable to talk to pilots of aircraft flying above the Richmond, Va., area and scrambling in a chaotic situation to try and keep them safe. Many flights were delayed.

The cause of the roughly 10-minute outage at approximately 6:49 p.m. EDT is undetermined, according to NATCA, though controllers say it was the second time in the last few weeks that they have lost their radio frequencies.

The affected sector is used by aircraft mostly headed north from Florida airports. Destinations for flights in this sector are major airports like New York-LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia and Teterboro, N.J. It is a very complex and intensive sector. When the outage occurred on Monday, controllers immediately put all flights into holding patterns and prevented any other flight from entering the affected sector.

But because of the outage, obviously, getting word to pilots was a major challenge. Controllers used the emergency radio frequency to reach some flights. For others, it was a matter of controllers literally waiting for the pilots to realize something wasn’t right and then finding other radio frequencies to call the center.

“A situation doesn't really get much worse than that for us,” Washington Center NATCA Facility Representative Rich Santa said. “It was mayhem. We must have functioning equipment with maximum redundancy to do our jobs and keep every flight safe and right now, we do not have a high degree of confidence in our equipment.”

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