Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami Airport Computers Crash 3 Times

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami Airport Computers Crash 3 Times

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Three times last week, radar computer glitches forced air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport to delay takeoffs and spread out aircraft in flight because their altitudes and other information disappeared from radar screens.

Thousands of airline passengers were delayed, but there were no accidents and apparently no close calls, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Still, a controllers union president said the situation could have become dangerous if any pilot had failed to follow altitude and spacing instructions.

FAA technical experts think they have identified the problem, which is called "scatter." Flight data that had vanished briefly on July 22, Saturday and Sunday remained in sight Monday and Tuesday, spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen reported Tuesday afternoon:

"They believe they're narrowing down the source. There haven't been any scatters since they restarted the system at 12:50 a.m. Monday. They're still working to address the problem."

Controllers use an automated radar tracking system, ARTS for short, to keep track of planes. The aircraft are symbolized on radar screens by slash marks, each accompanied by its own block of flight data.

"The ARTS data give the flight number, type of aircraft, air speed, altitude and destination, and all that information disappeared," said Andrew Cantwell, president of the airport control tower's chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "The biggest issue would be loss of the altitude data. If we don't know what it is and two airplanes are in close proximity, we could have a midair collision."

Some of the failures lasted a minute or two, he said, although in most cases the altitude reappeared on radar screens before the other information came back.

Cantwell said each controller may be directing 10 to 15 planes at a time during busy periods, such as July 22 when the flight data blanked out at 5 p. …

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