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Runway Safety at Risk Due to FAA Failure to Fix Key Equipment - (8/11/2005)

AMASS Doesn’t Work In Bad Weather

WASHINGTON – Air traffic controllers today are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to invest the effort and money needed to fix a dangerous and unacceptable glitch in a key airport movement surveillance system that forces it into limited mode during bad weather, defeating its usefulness in helping to prevent possible collisions.

The glitch was exposed in a high profile way recently with a near-collision of two aircraft at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport during poor weather in the middle of the night. Controllers at Boston’s Logan Airport have also seen the equipment, known as Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS), not work in conditions where moderate or greater precipitation is in the area.

“This results in controllers not having this safety alerting system to help them when they need it the most – during bad weather and periods of low visibility,” said Doug Fralick, safety and technology director of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “I believe the FAA can overcome this problem if they simply get to work on it immediately. The agency has been selling the safety aspect of AMASS to the National Transportation Safety Board and the public, all the while knowing that the safety alert logic must be disabled in adverse conditions.”

AMASS is a software enhancement to the Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model 3 (ASDE-3), that provides controllers with aural and visual alerts to potential collisions on the runway. It processes data from the ASDE-3 and Automated Radar Terminal Systems (ARTS) to predict aircraft movement for arriving and departing aircraft and detects aircraft and vehicles that infringe on the runway surface. It does this by correlating speed, time and distance algorithms to assess potential collision situations.

“We believe AMASS is a valuable tool and it can help in the prevention of potential runway accidents,” Fralick said. “We also believe there is a potential solution to the limited mode dilemma. The question is whether or not the agency is willing to make the commitment required to provide an all-weather runway safety alerting system. We believe the answer should be obvious.”

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