Midwest Skies Go Silent

11/1/00 12:20 AM
Cris Johnson

Air traffic Controllers stared into darkness yesterday as all the RADAR scopes at the Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center went black. The RADAR blackout was accompanied by a total loss of communications. Controllers from the surrounding facilities were left to scramble to take over the duties of the blinded controllers in Indiana.

"ZID went completely black. Very black... We had nothing. It was complete chaos," said Dave O'Malley, a representative of the controllers union in Indianapolis.

Air Traffic Controllers use RADAR to keep aircraft a safe distance apart during flight. Without RADAR this still can be achieved through backup procedures. But these backup procedures require Radio communications. With no RADAR or Radios to guide them, the airplanes were left on their own.

With all their tools rendered useless, controllers were left gazing at a new piece of equipment recently installed by the Federal Aviation Administration. URET or User Request Evaluation Tool continued to work when all the equipment it was designed to assist failed. "Unfortunately", said another controller, "it showed two a/c going together... and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it."

Said another controller; "Thousands of passengers owe their lives to the pilots in those cockpits tonight."

The problem reportedly was caused by three to four commercial power spikes or surges. Not something new for this facility.

"This happened at Indianapolis last Christmas also." George Petrovich, a regional representative with the controllers union continues. "What's not clear is whether ZID (or any other facility for that matter) has equipment that protects against these types of surges. If it doesn't, why doesn't it? If it does, why did it fail?"

Though an official of the Federal Aviation Administration has not yet responded, I will include that Administrations standard response. "Safety was never compromised."

You be the judge on its validity.