Nov. 20, 2000

CONTACT: Doug Church
202.628-5451, x4802


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Despite concerns raised by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Federal Aviation Administration has announced plans to proceed with a test procedure called Compressed Arrival Procedures (CAPS) in the Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control airspace during the busy Christmas travel season.

CAPS - which involves stacking planes vertically as they approach O’Hare International Airport- have been tested sporadically over the past two years under specific guidelines and times, with mixed results. The new proposal, which will include the northeast, southeast and southwest arrival corridors, calls for CAPS to be tested at random. Poor backup radar coverage precludes the northwest corridor from being used.

The agency’s decision to go forth with this test is an overzealous response to the airlines’ unrealistic expectations of an overburdened system,” said Raymond Gibbons, president of the NATCA local chapter at the Chicago TRACON in Elgin, Ill. “We are barely treading water with what we have to handle right now. To place additional demands and complexity upon a fragile existence would, at a minimum, be misguided.”

Among concerns addressed by NATCA to the FAA are staffing issues, controller training and evaluation of test results. Additionally, NATCA is encountering many operational problems associated with the FAA’s Land and Hold Short Order (LAHSO). Gibbons said participation by the airlines is inconsistent and undependable and the FAA Order itself is workload-intensive, which has resulted in a very complex operation with little margin for error. Adding CAPS would upset this delicate balance.

NATCA believes the real experts on this issue are the controllers sitting at the radar scopes who will have to work with the piggybacked aircraft at higher altitudes and faster speeds within the confines of the same overcrowded airspace.

The men and women wearing the headsets are in the best position to decide the safety of any new procedures,” NATCA National President John Carr said. “It would be reckless to disregard their input at this juncture.” Carr went on to add, “There’s plenty of time to negotiate this issue after the holiday travel rush is concluded. The system is not built to flight-test new procedures on the flying public. If they want to test it badly enough, test it in O’Hare’s lab … not on holiday travelers.”

Said Gibbons: “No other facility in the country accepts aircraft as proposed by CAPS. To implement this test, given the myriad of concerns voiced by NATCA will compromise safety and be a disservice to the flying public.”

NATCA is the certified union for 15,000 FAA air traffic controllers, 1,200 engineers and numerous other ATC professionals, as well as for Department of Defense civilian and privately employed controllers.