Contractor Inability Causes Significant Loss of Communications for New York's Major Air Traffic Control Facility

NEW YORK - New York air travelers experienced delays last week due to contractor carelessness and inability, says the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), AFL-CIO, the union representing FAA systems specialists. On November 2, contractors working for Harris Corporation, the company now providing Federal Communications Infrastructure (FTI) circuitry and communications for the FAA, were performing corrective maintenance on equipment at New York’s Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). Other systems were impacted due to the maintenance work, resulting in a loss of circuits that provide remote and interfacility communications and leading to significant unscheduled outages lasting nearly an hour.

"The Harris contractors have no concept of how the work they perform on one system will impact other systems at the facility," said Luke Drake, PASS regional vice president. "Only trained FAA systems specialists possess this knowledge of how all the systems work together at a facility in order to keep air traffic safely moving. By allowing contractors to work on these systems without this level of expertise, the FAA is placing the flying public at extreme risk."

As a result of the work being performed by the contractor, the ARTCC lost all communications with Boston, Washington and Cleveland centers as well as those to the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility. Additionally, circuits that provide connectivity to the remote center air-to-ground radios and the backup emergency communications services were interrupted. All departures were stopped from New York TRACON’s airspace, which serves several major airports including Kennedy International and Newark International. A hold on airborne flights was also implemented for aircraft traveling from Cleveland ARTCC to New York ARTCC. Approximately one hour after the outage, Harris contractors returned to the original configuration that they were trying to correct and communications services were restored.

"The contractors were not able to complete the work they were doing, which means it will have to be rescheduled. With the same contractors performing the same work, it’s not difficult to predict the possible outcomes," said Drake. "If the FAA does not address the significant lack of contractor knowledge, this type of situation could have much more serious consequences in the future."

Since Harris Corporation was awarded the FTI contract in 2002, the transition to the system has been plagued with contractor errors, outages, missed deadlines and escalating costs. A recent Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (IG) report released in May emphasized that the FAA must gain better control of its contractors. PASS has called attention on several occasions to problems associated with the work of Harris contractors, with the most recent incident involving loss of radars in Dallas/Fort Worth.


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PASS represents more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense who install, maintain, support and certify air traffic control and national defense equipment, inspect and oversee the commercial and general aviation industries, develop flight procedures and perform quality analyses of the aviation systems. For more information, visit the PASS website at www.passnational.org.

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