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An air-traffic controller talks about the Southern California ATC failure

Risks Digest, Volume 23, Number 54, has a communication from an air traffic controller about the ATC failure I posted about yesterday.

Some of the FAA spokesflacks had the audacity to suggest that the system was still safe, because the radar system continued working just fine. Sure, the controllers could still *see* the airplanes; they just couldn't do anything about it as they watched them get closer, and closer, and closer... they'd have had a wonderful view of the targets merging as the passengers were converted instantly a thin pink mist had the planes collided. But hey, the system was safe....

The LA failure was both ridiculous and scary. It's ridiculous on several levels; the fact that the system is designed to shut itself down is silly in a way, because from the user's perspective the system basically crashes to protect itself from crashing.

Well, when suddenly you can't talk to the airplanes, you don't much give a damn whether it's an intentional shutdown or an accidental/buggy shutdown. Therefore, they might as well remove this intentional design.

It's ridiculous that the technicians weren't doing the reset. This issue is NOT NEW, and has been known for some time... and had any of the 10 airplanes (with 200 passengers each) managed to smack into another plane, you can bet that the FAA would have been paying the families for a long, long, long time.

It's ridiculous that the first backup system didn't work right simply because people were too lazy/unmotivated to test it properly. VTABS is an acceptable backup; it's not perfect, but for the money it cost (essentially nothing for hardware, some reprogramming costs for the servers) it's nearly ideal.

It's ridiculous that a perfectly good SECOND backup was thrown away by the FAA that cost even less. The technology in EARS has been around since, oh, about as long as there's been radio; it's tried and true, and it's pathetic that there's only one facility in the nation (out of 21) that still has EARS.

And it's scary to think that this could've happened in an even busier facility than LA. The morning crush of traffic in New York or Boston or Indy or Cleveland Centers, for example, where there's even more traffic packed into even less airspace than out west in LA.

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