Nine-hour FTI Outage At Austin Tower Could Have Been Avoided

AUSTIN, TX – Last week’s nine-hour Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) outage at the Austin Air Traffic Control Tower has the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents FAA technicians, wondering how and when the FAA will finally address the severe deficiencies in the quality of work being performed by contractors. A contractor working for Harris Corporation, which currently provides the FAA with circuitry and communications, turned a 30-minute issue into a nine-hour outage.

On Friday, a circuit card failure at the Austin tower was responsible for nine hours of reduced capacity at the tower, meaning that aircraft separation was increased from 3 to 5 miles while all aircraft handoffs were done manually. “While the impact to air traffic appears to be minimal, one thing is for sure – vital air traffic services were lost for far longer than need be,” said PASS Regional Vice President Dave Spero. A PASS systems specialist waited on site for six hours for a Harris contractor to arrive at the facility to troubleshoot the problem. “Had the specialist been authorized to make the repairs, he could have corrected the problem in 30 minutes, but the FAA insists on having contractors without the same skills and responsiveness as FAA systems specialists to resolve the problem,” said Spero.

The FAA awarded Harris Corporation a five-year $1.7 billion dollar contract in 2002 to upgrade circuitry and communications for the FAA. However, reports of contractor errors, outages, missed deadlines and escalating costs have been rampant throughout the country. “The knowledge and competence level of these contractors is abysmal and is only getting worse; yet, the FAA continues to be indifferent to the issue,” said Spero.

Last year, a Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (IG) report emphasized that the FAA must gain better control of its contractors. The sentiment has since been echoed by PASS on several occasions, including testifying before lawmakers. “Despite repeated warnings by PASS, the FAA has been dismissive at best regarding the risks associated with continuing to allow substandard contractors access to vital equipment,” said Spero. “These contractors lack the knowledge and experience required to fully comprehend the intricacies of the air traffic control system. The FAA must raise the bar and demand efficiency and competence from its contractors to ensure the safety of the American flying public.”

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For 36 years, PASS has represented more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense who install, maintain, support and certify air traffic control and national defense equipment, inspect and oversee the commercial and general aviation industries, develop flight procedures and perform quality analyses of the aviation systems. For more information, visit the PASS website at www.passnational.org.

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