Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

You Got To Be Shitting Me Entry #97

May 4, 2014

NBC News

A relic from the Cold War appears to have triggered a software glitch at a major air traffic control center in California Wednesday that led to delays and cancellations of hundreds of flights across the country, sources familiar with the incident told NBC News.

On Wednesday at about 2 p.m., according to sources, a U-2 spy plane, the same type of aircraft that flew high-altitude spy missions over Russia 50 years ago, passed through the airspace monitored by the L.A. Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, Calif. The L.A. Center handles landings and departures at the region’s major airports, including Los Angeles International (LAX), San Diego and Las Vegas.

The computers at the L.A. Center are programmed to keep commercial airliners and other aircraft from colliding with each other. The U-2 was flying at 60,000 feet, but the computers were attempting to keep it from colliding with planes that were actually miles beneath it.

Though the exact technical causes are not known, the spy plane’s altitude and route apparently overloaded a computer system called ERAM, which generates display data for air-traffic controllers. Back-up computer systems also failed.

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to stop accepting flights into airspace managed by the L.A. Center, issuing a nationwide ground stop that lasted for about an hour and affected thousands of passengers.

At LAX, one of the nation’s busiest airports, there were 27 cancellations of arriving flights, as well as 212 delays and 27 diversions to other airports. Twenty-three departing flights were cancelled, while 216 were delayed. There were also delays at the airports in Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario and Orange County and at other airports across the Southwestern U.S.

In a statement to NBC News, the FAA said that it was “investigating a flight-plan processing issue” at the L.A. Air Route Traffic Control Center, but did not elaborate on the reasons for the glitch and did not confirm that it was related to the U-2’s flight.

“FAA technical specialists resolved the specific issue that triggered the problem on Wednesday, and the FAA has put in place mitigation measures as engineers complete development of software changes,” said the agency in a statement. “The FAA will fully analyze the event to resolve any underlying issues that contributed to the incident and prevent a reoccurrence.”

Sources told NBC News that the plane was a U-2 with a Defense Department flight plan. “It was a ‘Dragon Lady,’” said one source, using the nickname for the plane. Edwards Air Force Base is 30 miles north of the L.A. Center. Both Edwards and NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, which is located at Edwards, have been known to host U-2s and similar, successor aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force is still flying U-2s, but plans to retire them within the next few years.

Gary Hatch, spokesman for Edwards Air Force Base, would not comment on the Wednesday incident, but said, “There are no U-2 planes assigned to Edwards.”

A spokesperson for the Armstrong Flight Research Center did not immediately return a call for comment.

Developed more than a half-century ago, the U-2 was once a workhorse of U.S. airborne surveillance. The plane’s “operational ceiling” is 70,000 feet. In 1960, Francis Gary Powers was flying a U-2 for the CIA over the Soviet Union when he was shot down. He was held captive by the Russians for two years before being exchanged for a KGB colonel in U.S. custody. A second U.S. U-2 was shot down over Cuba in 1962, killing the pilot.

You Got To Be Shitting Me Entry# 5

March 24 2011

(AP) Air traffic safety is under increased scrutiny by federal authorities following an incident in which two passenger jets landed without controller assistance at Reagan National Airport because no one could be reached in the airport tower.

An aviation official said that an air traffic supervisor — the lone controller on duty around midnight on Tuesday when the incident occurred — had fallen asleep. The official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity because an investigation is ensuing, said the incident has led the Federal Aviation Administration to launch a nationwide inquiry into airport tower staffing issues.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that the pilots of the two planes were in contact with controllers at a regional Federal Aviation Administration facility about 40 miles away in Warrenton, Va.

He said that after pilots were unable to raise the airport tower at Reagan by radio, they asked controllers in Warrenton to call the tower. Repeated calls from the regional facility to the tower went unanswered, Knudson added.

Responding to the incident, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that he has directed FAA to put two air traffic controllers on the midnight shift at Reagan National.

“It is not acceptable to have just one controller in the tower managing air traffic in this critical air space,” LaHood said. Reagan National is located in Northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington.

LaHood also said he has directed FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to study tower staffing at other airports around the country.

NTSB is gathering information on the occurrence to decide whether to open a formal investigation, Knudson said.

Regional air traffic facilities handle aircraft within roughly a 50 mile radius of an airport, but landings, takeoffs and planes within about three miles of an airport are handled by controllers in the airport tower.

The planes involved were American Airlines flight 1012, a Boeing 737 with 91 passengers and 6 crew members on board, and United Airlines flight 628T, an Airbus A320 with 63 passengers and five crew members.

“The NTSB is conducting an investigation and we are doing our own review,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in an email.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency “is looking into staffing issues and whether existing procedures were followed appropriately.”

It’s unlikely the safety of the planes was at risk since the pilots would have used a radio frequency for the airport tower to advise nearby aircraft of their intention to land and to make sure that no other planes also intended to land at that time, aviation safety experts said. At that time of night, air traffic would have been light, they said.

Also, controllers at the regional facility, using radar, would have been able to advise the pilots of other nearby planes, experts said.

The primary risk would have been if there was equipment on the runway when the planes landed, they said.

But the incident raises serious questions about controller fatigue, a longstanding safety concern, said John Goglia, a former NTSB board member.

“You have to watch your schedules to make sure (controllers) have adequate rest,” Goglia said. “It’s worse when nothing is going on. When it’s busy, you have to stay engaged. When it’s quiet, all they have to be is a little bit tired and they’ll fall asleep.”