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Palm Beach Air Traffic Controllers Avert Disaster over South Florida Skies - (11/12/2007)

CONTACT:     Jim Marinitti, NATCA Miami Facility Representative, 305-502-6686; Shane Ahern, NATCA Palm Beach Facility Representative, 772-341-4283
 

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Just hours after a crippling communications failure last Friday (November 9) forced Jacksonville Center air traffic controllers to scramble to ensure a positive outcome to an unsafe situation in a wide swath of airspace above four Southeast U.S. states, Palm Beach Tower and TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) lost all communications and radar functions as well. This is called “ATC-0” and it is the most serious issue that can happen to controllers.
 
One US Airways flight could not contact Palm Beach and declared emergency fuel. Eventually, the pilot reached a Miami controller and was given expeditious service to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) InternationalAirport. The aircraft landed safely, but any more delay could have caused a catastrophe.
 
ATC-0 is the perfect storm for controllers, who lose everything at once; radios, radar and telephone lines. When they lose radios, they lose the ability to talk to pilots; when they lose telephone lines they lose the ability to coordinate with other air traffic controllers; and when they lose the radar they can no longer see aircraft to keep them safely separated. Compound this with the fact that the FAA has banned controllers from having cell phones in the control rooms and they now have no way to reach aircraft or other controllers.
 
“This is a perfect example why the FAA’s plan to consolidate the Palm Beach facility with the Miami facility at MIA is dangerous,” says Jim Marinitti, the NATCA facility representative at MIA.
 
Almost a year ago, something similar happened at MIA and Palm Beach was not affected because it is a stand-alone facility. This time Palm Beach was totally cut off and MIA was able to pick up the slack for the same reason. “Redundancy is the key when it comes to these situations,” Marinitti says. “It simply isn’t a safe policy to put all of our eggs in one basket simply to save a few bucks.” The FAA is attempting to move all Palm Beach radar functions to MIA, which the union opposes due to the loss of redundancy and the obvious vulnerability to natural disasters and terrorism. 
 
Marinitti added: “No expense should be spared when it comes to the safety of the skies over South Florida. The FAA seems to have adopted a theory of ‘Safety at all costs, as long as it is cheap,’ in the staffing of controllers and with how maintenance is conducted. The FAA needs to build Palm Beach a new facility, as was originally the plan, and stop playing roulette with the lives of the flying public.”


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