Communications Outage Highlights Serious Flaws at the FAA

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), AFL-CIO, the union that represents Federal Aviation Administration systems specialists, are highlighting serious issues uncovered at Leesburg Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) following Monday’s communications outage that lasted an hour and resulted in 60 delays impacting air traffic from New York to Jacksonville.

The culprit for this outage was once again problems directly attributed to Harris Corporation’s Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) system, which provides vital circuitry and communication functions for the FAA. Harris engineering failed to provide appropriate backup, which would have kept air traffic fully operational following the primary failure. “All around the country, we’ve seen very serious issues resulting from Harris’ unreliable services. This failure is no different, yet the FAA continues to ignore the issue while declaring the FTI program a success,” said Steve Garrett, a local PASS representative.

Additional factors also came into play that lengthened the response time of systems specialists in troubleshooting the issue. Perhaps one of the most problematic issues was an administrative error in a database that contains information on all of the telecommunications lines for tracking and troubleshooting purposes. Problems with the circuitry were identified shortly after its installation in late 2007; however, the supervisor at this facility, who is the only person authorized to make changes to the database, failed to address this issue. “When the responding technicians attempted to troubleshoot the outage, the lingering database error led them astray from the real issues and extended the outage by at least 10 minutes,” said Luke Drake, PASS regional vice president.

According to systems specialists at the facility, part of the problem is that this supervisor has also taken on additional duties, such as holding watch and assisting with technical troubleshooting efforts, due to a staffing shortage at Leesburg Center. “The staffing situation at Leesburg Center has reached a critical level,” said Mark Dunlap, PASS regional assistant. “We’re not getting the resources we need to properly operate the National Airspace System.” Currently, Leesburg Center has two systems specialists to maintain all the communications systems for all flights in the area. “In this case we’re lucky that the impact to air traffic was minimal thanks to the quick response of systems specialists. However, low staffing and poor contractor oversight has led to thousands of delayed planes for the American flying public, and they should be outraged.”

Recently, the FAA allowed staffing of systems specialists to drop below 6,100, the figure agreed upon by PASS and the FAA as the minimum number needed to maintain the system safely. 

For more information or questions, please contact Kori Blalock Keller at (202) 293-7277 x110.


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




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