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Runway Safety Technology Deployment at Risk Due to FAA's Short-Sighted Budget Cuts - (9/23/2004)

WASHINGTON – Turning a blind eye to one of its very own performance goals, the Federal Aviation Administration is dramatically slowing the deployment of a key piece of equipment designed to reduce the threat of runway accidents, providing more proof that the agency’s haphazard cuts to its modernization budget are affecting aviation safety.

The equipment, Airport Surface Detection Equipment-Model X (ASDE-X), provides air traffic controllers with an all-weather, seamless airport surface surveillance system that uses both radar and a process of determining a target location in two or three dimensions called multilateration.

The ASDE-X program was originally scheduled to be completed in 2007, but due to FAA budgetary decisions, only 15 of the scheduled 34 sites will have received ASDE-X by then. In the next fiscal year, only two airports will receive ASDE-X; Houston Hobby and Charlotte Douglas International, while only three sites will have it in fiscal year 2006 and five others in fiscal year 2007.

“We have a tool designed to aid the air traffic controller in reducing the threat of runway accidents and the FAA has a goal to reduce serious runway incursions. The FAA and NATCA agree that ASDE-X would be of great benefit to the safety of the aviation industry, yet at the same time, the budget and deployment of this tool is threatened,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association Director of Safety and Technology Doug Fralick said. “This just does not make any sense whatsoever.”

In addition, the majority of the ASDE-X installations and testing dates have been pushed back to 2008 and 2009 when there is no funding allocated for fielding this equipment. As it is, the program has had its budget cut $20.2 million for fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2005.

“It’s been nearly a decade since NATCA proposed the idea of a low-cost surface surveillance system for mid-size airports. This idea evolved into incorporating the data from the runway safety technology already in place at 34 larger airports,” Fralick said. “Considering that runway incursions remain one of the National Transportation Safety Board’s most important concerns and are keeping the FAA from achieving all of its safety performance goals, the last thing the FAA should do is turn its back on ASDE-X and miss a crucial opportunity to seriously tackle the issue of runway safety.”

Despite frequent assurances to NATCA that all sites on the original ASDE-X deployment plan would be funded, two in fact, Reno/Tahoe International Airport and San Juan-Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, have no funding. In order to receive the ASDE-X systems they were promised, these two airport authorities will have to apply for Airport Improvement Program funding and pay 25 percent of the cost themselves.

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