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Major Radar Outage at Boston Radar Center Wednesday Evening Leaves Controllers Scrambling, Flights Delayed - (1/24/2008)

CONTACT:     Kevin Bianchi, NATCA Boston Center, 603-930-6906; Mike Robicheau, NATCA New England Regional Vice President, 603-533-6456

NASHUA, N.H. – A major computer software failure at the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center Wednesday afternoon knocked out both the primary and the principal backup radar system – called DARC – used by controllers to monitor hundreds of flights over seven U.S. states and thousands of square miles of airspace over the Atlantic Ocean. 

The outage began at approximately 5:45 p.m. EST and lasted just over one hour. Flight delays rippled across the country as aircraft headed to Boston had to be held on the ground at their originating airports until the Boston Center airspace was back up and running normally. Flights in the air headed toward Boston Center’s airspace were barred from entering and had to be put into holding patterns, which made life for busy controllers at adjacent FAA facilities harrowing and dangerous.           

“This was, in every possible sense, a dangerously unsafe and chaotic situation,” said Kevin Bianchi, Boston Center’s NATCA facility representative. “Controllers were in essence working blind and, in many cases, actually had to question pilots to determine their location and routes of flight. Controllers were required to use a secondary backup system to safely track aircraft.”  

An additional problem, Bianchi said, was that many of the newly hired controllers and trainees at Boston Center lack the experience and training to operate the backup systems. “This problem is a result of the FAA rushing to certify new controllers to replace the seasoned controllers who are retiring in droves, without properly training them on all aspects of this demanding career,” Bianchi said. “If it were not for a few seasoned controllers, who have decades of experience working with the old legacy system, the risk to the flying public would have been significantly higher than it was.”

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