Tuesday, November 6, 2001

LINTHICUM, Md. (AP) The primary radar at Baltimore-Washington International Airport began operating again yesterday morning following an outage that caused air controllers to declare airspace around the airport unsafe.
Air-traffic controllers rerouted high-altitude flights coming in and out of BWI’s airspace Sunday after technicians were unable to restart the radar following routine maintenance Saturday night.
Controllers used two backup radar systems and allowed only flights arriving and departing BWI to use local airspace. Rerouted flights were turned over to controllers at other airports.
The diversions caused flights at BWI to run about 30 minutes late, while flights at Washington Dulles International Airport were delayed about 15 minutes, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters. The radar was working again properly by 4:20 a.m. Sunday, BWI officials said.
Dulles, BWI, Andrews Air Force Base and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport share airspace, Mr. Peters said.
The weekend radar malfunction was the second since August, when backup radars also malfunctioned.
Air controllers said the problems with the backup radar were similar to the outages that occurred on Aug. 30 and 31. Planes disappeared from screens for extended periods, and holes in the radar made some flights invisible for as much as 20 miles of their flights, they said.
When the Coast Guard asked BWI Sunday to locate a plane over the Annapolis harbor, controllers could not find it.
However, Mr. Peters said yesterday that the backup radars never lost flights on Sunday. The radars were missing some “data blocks,” which tell controllers what type of planes are in the airspace, along with their altitude and speed.
“We never lost targets, which represent aircraft,” Mr. Peters said.
The Maryland General Assembly is to hold a hearing on BWI’s radar problems later this month. FAA officials maintain that the radar system works properly and is safe.
A series of internal reports, however, describes failures, and Sunday’s malfunctions renewed complaints by air-traffic controllers. By declaring the airspace unsafe, they were able to give themselves some legal protection in case of an accident.
“Had the agency truly taken steps to correct this before and acknowledge there was a problem, we could well have it fixed by now,” said Rockton Thurman, a senior BWI controller and president of the local National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
FAA officials said they were never notified of a problem serious enough to take immediate action.
“If we’re talking specifically about the dropped data blocks, no we weren’t aware of it,” Mr. Peters said. “So no, we couldn’t have taken care of it a long time ago. We’re looking into what caused the problem and trying to fix it.”

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