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Air Travel Around Nation's Capitol and Big Apple Suffers Due to FAA Failings - (7/25/2005)

WASHINGTON - Once again, the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to address an ongoing frequency problem at Washington Center, in Leesburg, Va., created a potentially dangerous situation yesterday for travelers in the Northeast Corridor. This is the latest in a string of equipment and system failures for the FAA that suggest a chronic problem that is getting worse.

On Sunday morning, air traffic controllers managing aircraft in a busy sector at Washington Center lost all communication with their pilots due to a frequency failure and had to shut down the sector until it could be fixed. Controllers quickly combined traffic in that sector with traffic in two other sectors to ensure every flight in the region was covered. However, the additional workload in the other two sectors, particularly on a busy summer Sunday, created an extremely stressful situation for already overworked controllers. In addition, restrictions had to be placed on flights out of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area as well as New York Center affecting the timely flow of traffic up and down the East Coast.

“I would like to commend the quick action of the controllers at Washington Center yesterday as well as the tireless commitment of the controllers who picked up the extra traffic,” remarked National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr. “As usual, these highly skilled professionals reacted thoughtfully and responsibly to yet another stressful situation, ensuring the safety of thousands of summer travelers.

“Unfortunately, the FAA’s actions continue to be far from commendable. In fact, thanks to FAA policies, telemarketing companies have better tech support than those of us charged with managing traffic in the skies.”

The FAA refuses to keep technicians on site to address the frequent breakdowns of aging technologies even during peak travel times. Yesterday, that policy meant that a technician did not get on site to fix this critical situation until four and a half hours after the outage began.

“The FAA’s approach of band-aid solutions is unacceptable,” Carr stated. “Yesterday’s crisis could have been avoided if the agency had addressed the problem years ago. For the safety of America’s travelers, the FAA must start replacing this aging equipment immediately.”

"We'd like to call on the agency to join us in working for a modern air traffic system - one that our nation needs and deserves. We are going to be making safety and system modernization a central part of our contract proposal. If the FAA won't step up to the plate to work towards higher and better and safer standards, we are going to step up to that plate in the proposal we put across the table.”

"We hope the agency will live up to the promise of doing the right thing if not only for the work force, but for the flying public. We hope the FAA will put safety first and continue to follow us in our commitment to modernization," concluded Carr.

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