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Oakland Center Software Failure Affects Radar and Disrupts Bay Area Travel - (10/23/2000)

OAKLAND, Calif. – An air traffic control computer failure occurred today as a result of a scheduled software upgrade at the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Fremont, Calif.

It was the second time in five days that a failure in the radar system affected travel in the western United States. On Oct. 19, a similar software upgrade at the Los Angeles Center resulted in two computer failures that lasted nearly four hours. The situation at the Oakland Center lasted almost six hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The software assigns codes to departing flights, which enables air traffic controllers to track them. It was installed on the same type of host computer at Oakland as it was at Los Angeles and the results were similar. Because all terminal radar shares from the host computer, the problems at Oakland caused radar failure throughout the region and resulted in what is called “going DARC.”

During that situation, controllers still have flight data to work with, but the computer systems at each facility cannot communicate with each other. No information is generated from the center to the terminals, which creates a dangerous situation.

Monday’s problem affected all radar in the San Francisco Bay area. National Air Traffic Controllers Association Regional Vice-President Kevin McGrath said the situation diminished the margin of safety.

“Faulty equipment was the cause of this situation and we’re concerned about it,” McGrath said. “We’re coming up on Thanksgiving and the busiest season for air travel. We don’t want to scare anyone but the public has a right to know about these problems.”

NATCA is working with the FAA to correct these problems.

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