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Controllers Blind to Aircraft in New England Airspace - (6/17/1998)

NASHUA, N.H. - Radar critical to safe separation of aircraft in New England is failing at an alarming rate. Computer equipment - the Computer Display Channel -- that displays aircraft on controllers' radar scopes, is so unreliable that regional Federal Aviation Administration officials cannot schedule sufficient technicians to keep up with outages.

"Two years ago, seven technicians worked where today there are four," said Ed Dressell of the Professional Airways System Specialists, the FAA union representing radar technicians. "The agency has now placed the national airspace system in jeopardy by allowing staffing in the radar unit to fall well below recognized norms," he added.

William Tretter, FAA Airways Facilities assistant manager, stated, "We expect this situation to be over when the CDC returns to normal operational reliability and availability."

Scott Hayden, National Air Traffic Controllers Association vice president at Boston Center, likens these failures to air traffic controllers working with blinders on. "When aircraft aren't displayed on radar scopes, controllers are blind to aircraft and cannot protect the flying public. Air Force One is not the only plane disappearing from radar screens. Unfortunately, these things happen every day to other aircraft as well."

The FAA's stated long term solution to this problem, Display System Replacement, is not scheduled for operational installation at Boston Center - located in Nashua, N.H. - for two years. By not scheduling sufficient technicians and staff when these units fail, the FAA is violating labor agreements - agreements in place to ensure at least minimum standards for operating equipment and personnel to maintain and repair it.

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