- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Blips that touch each other on air-traffic controllers' screens even when planes aren't in danger of colliding are among problems plaguing a new radar system being installed at Philadelphia's airport, said Federal Aviation Administration technicians who urged a delay yesterday.
The Professional Airways Systems Specialists union, which represents the workers, objected in a prepared statement to beginning the system in Philadelphia "without addressing serious flaws identified in El Paso, Syracuse and Detroit," such as problems of vanishing data and failure to properly display some flights.
"Rather than continue to pretend that there's not a problem, what we need is for them to address the issues," said Tom Brantley, vice president of PASS.
Mr. Brantley referred to problems the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general cited last month with the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System the FAA is using to replace different types of air-traffic-control computers nationally.
STARS is scheduled to begin operating Nov. 17 in Philadelphia, but Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead told FAA Administrator Jane Garvey in a memo that "it is doubtful that it will be operationally suitable by November to control live air traffic in Philadelphia and replace [the current system]."
Miss Garvey, the FAA administrator, had responded to Mr. Mead that: "On Nov. 17, the FAA will go operational at Philadelphia with a STARS system that is far superior to the legacy system it replaces."
Philadelphia International Airport officials wouldn't comment on the statements by PASS or on the new radar system, spokesman Mark Pesce said. He referred questions to the FAA.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said yesterday that Miss Garvey wouldn't comment beyond her memo to Mr. Mead, which assured that the system would be thoroughly tested and "all critical trouble reports will be resolved."
Mr. Brantley said problems continue. Last week, he noted, simultaneous landings on two of Detroit Metropolitan Airport's parallel runways were restricted. The FAA said the STARS system failed to accurately display distances between planes approaching those runways because radar blips were too close together, sometimes actually touching, on the new screens.
At Syracuse, Mr. Brantley said, "At one point they just lost radar data for a period of time; it was four or five minutes, and to this day they don't know why."
The FAA is using STARS to replace several different computers air-traffic controllers now use at more than 160 sites nationally. It has full-color displays, can show weather maps and can be expanded to show more detail about storms.
But Mr. Mead said the system is four years behind schedule, $700 million over its original $1 billion price tag, and still has problems.
In El Paso, he said, some aircraft that should be automatically displayed on controllers' screens weren't properly displayed, forcing controllers to track the planes manually.
"This kind of manual intervention may be temporarily acceptable in a low-density environment like El Paso, but is unlikely to be a workable solution for a high-volume environment like Philadelphia," Mr. Mead's memo said.
The problems persist despite a sharp rise in spending "in order to stay on schedule for Philadelphia," Mr. Mead said. The FAA was spending about $10 million a month this year on STARS, up from $8 million to $9 million a month in the three previous years, but was working on a plan to reduce spending.

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