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Sun, Jul 15, 2007

SoCal TRACON Consolidation Hits A Snag

Lost Fiber-Optic Link Leads To Lost Radar Coverage

It didn't take long for problems to arise from this week's consolidation of the Palm Springs TRACON into a Southern California radar facility.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports a fiber-optic cable connecting the Palm Springs radar to Miramar went down Thursday afternoon, one day after the facilities were consolidated.

The faulty link wiped out radar coverage for a portion of area airspace for about 90 minutes, during which time operations over the Coachella Valley were shifted to Palmdale.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown maintained the glitch did not cause any lapses in safety, or lead to any problems or delays. Nevertheless, the problem will likely give critics of the consolidation new ammunition for their arguments.

As ANN reported, the agency was set to move controllers operating the PSP Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) to a consolidated SoCal TRACON facility near San Diego, but delayed the move earlier this month.

At issue was the safety of such a consolidation, which the FAA says could save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. The agency maintained the consolidation would not affect safety, and would be unnoticeable to pilots or airline passengers... but opponents of the move said more research needed to be done.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association -- already doing battle with the FAA over a volatile labor dispute -- argued the Southern California TRACON in Miramar wasn't staffed well enough to take on the additional workload. Errors at that facility have reportedly quadrupled during the past five years, according to the Desert Sun.

"I'm still not happy with the staffing situation at the SoCal (radar in Miramar), but there's a light at the end of the tunnel," said Ham Ghaffari, regional vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, expressed concerns last year about staffing at the facility.

"The Southern California TRACON is the busiest facility of its kind in the world. It is critical that it be fully staffed to ensure that the vast airspace over Southern California is safe," she said.

The FAA said Boxer relented, and agreed to the consolidation, after the agency agreed to additional training for controllers in Miramar overseeing Palm Springs airspace, according to the Union-Tribune.

Stephen Merlin, president of NATCA's chapter at the Socal TRACON, says the union remains concerned with staffing levels, and the overall wisdom of the FAA's move.

As for handling Palm Springs, Merlin added, “At this point I see us slowly working out the bugs."

FMI: www.palmspringsairport.com, www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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