Air traffic glitch should have been minor

The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO (PASS), the union that represents FAA technicians, has expressed “extreme concern” about the resolution process in reaction to Thursday’s outage of the Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI). The outage occurred due to a corrupt router card for the FTI server at the Salt Lake Center in Utah and had a rippling effect that caused significant delays across the country.

FTI, which provides all telecommunications used to transfer critical data used by the FAA for air traffic control, is owned by Harris Corp. That means it is not maintained by the FAA, union officials said. When the outage occurred at the Salt Lake Center, Harris Corp. attempted to troubleshoot the problem remotely, but eventually a Harris FTI technician had to be dispatched to the scene in order to fix the problem. In the end, it took four hours for Harris to rectify the situation.

“If the FAA owned and maintained this system, the problem could have been corrected within minutes,” said Tom Brantley, PASS national president.

“This could have reduced delays tremendously and allowed a much quicker resolution to the problem. Meanwhile, because it took so long for Harris to address the problem, delays continue to plague the system.”

PASS officials note they have reported several times on issues with FTI and concerns with entrusting responsibility for such a massive system entirely to an outside vendor. “However, the FAA appears determined to outsource even more work to private corporations,” officials said, noting the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system, considered the cornerstone of the NextGen air traffic control system, will not be owned or maintained by the FAA. Instead the FAA will entrust responsibility for its safe operation entirely to private contractors, union officials said.

“The similarities between FTI and ADS-B are startling,” said Brantley. “The FAA cannot continue to allow private contractors free reign without involving experienced FAA employees in the process. As we’ve seen with today’s incident, involving FAA employees can result in far less delays and thus less inconvenience to the flying public. If the FAA continues down this path, there will continue to be risks not only to timely air travel but to the safety of the system as well.”

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  1. Peter Piper says

    Bad router? C’mon, who designs a system without redundancy, failsafe, and backups? This should not have happened.

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