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New Boston Approach Control Besieged With Equipment Problems - (6/28/2005)

CONTACT: Andy Blanchard, 603-508-1168

MERRIMACK, N.H. – Boston Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), the country’s newest Federal Aviation Administration consolidated facility, is suffering from numerous problems and technical failures related to radio and land-line communications as well as the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS), which is becoming not only a source of daily concern to air traffic controllers at the 18-month-old facility but an aviation safety concern as well.

Controllers are asking the FAA to immediately address problems with the Rapid Deployment Voice Switch (RDVS) system, which controls all the radio frequencies and landline telephones for the TRACON. Frequent, sudden losses of radio connections with pilots are proof of an increasingly unreliable system that has a direct impact on the safety of the system. The agency recently denied controllers’ submission of an unsatisfactory condition report on the system without a full investigation.

“The FAA seems more concerned with closing out a problem and pretending to keep working on it without fixing it,” said Mike Blake, New England Regional Vice President for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The STARS system, which replaces old monitors in the terminal environment but is a project the FAA has dramatically scaled back amid a cacophony of Congressional and watchdog criticism, contains many programming flaws despite numerous upgrades since its installation in 2004. Problems at Boston TRACON include a failure to display information on aircraft and process information correctly and causing situations where data is dropped altogether.

“The controllers are required to take their eyes off the scopes to fix data way too often. Anytime our eyes are distracted from the scopes, safety is compromised,” said Andy Blanchard, NATCA’s Boston TRACON facility representative. “With a forecasted record summer travel season now upon us, substandard equipment is the last thing we need. Even worse, because the FAA is gutting the STARS funding stream, these serious glitches may be around to stay.”

Added Blake: “You’ve got a brand new facility here with new STARS equipment but the FAA will not properly fund and support the program. What a waste of money and time to put it into a new, major facility and then say, ‘hey guys, you’re on your own.’”

Regarding RDVS, Blanchard explained, “Ever since we moved into this facility, we have had continuous problems talking to the airplanes. We run very precise operations that have no room for error. These procedures demand effective two-way radio contact. Anytime there is a breakdown in communication with the aircraft, safety is compromised.”

Concluded Blanchard: “The only thing keeping the airplanes moving here is the hard work and professionalism of the air traffic controllers at the Boston TRACON, who continually work around the shortcomings of the radar and radios. The FAA needs to fund, fix and maintain this equipment to regain the margin of safety the flying public demands and expects in this environment. With air traffic volume rising, we need equipment that allows us to do our job safely.”

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