FAA Says Too Many Signatures Were On ATC Screens
By ANN Correspondent Rob Stapleton, Alaska Journal of
Just as the Alaska
Region of the Federal Aviation Administration was receiving
accolades from the Alaska Air Carriers Association for its part in
creating and implementing the Capstone program, national program
officials shut off parts of the program.
Capstone -- or automatic dependent surveillance broadcast
(ADS-B) -- transmits and receives a real-time signal giving an
equipped aircraft's altitude, speed, direction, destination, size
and type from airplane to airplane, and from airplane to traffic
controllers. Capstone is also capable of integrating weather
information and a global positioning system onto a moving-terrain
map that can be viewed on a display screen mounted in the
instrument panel of the aircraft.
Capstone was taken off of air traffic controllers' screens at
the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center March 24 over a
technical issue. The Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center
oversees air traffic control for all aircraft coming into the
The FAA decision came after a team of 20 FAA air traffic
inspectors came to Alaska April 10-14 to examine the system for
The result is air traffic controllers in Anchorage are no longer
seeing the Capstone images of aircraft enroute on their screens.
This action comes after the system was credited for improving
flight safety by more than 40 percent in Southwest Alaska over the
last five years.
Recent accident figures from the FAA show that there were no
fatal accidents among air taxis and commuter airlines in the state
in 2005. Capstone is largely credited for the improvement, along
with a change of culture spirited by the nonprofit organization,
the Medallion Foundation.
According to the FAA's Alaska Region Web site, Capstone went off
air controllers' screens at the Anchorage center because,
"Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center was exceeding current
authorization to provide services in a mixed (radar and Capstone)
environment. The timeline to restore the ADS-B separation services
is unknown at this time."
Air traffic controllers have many types of targets on their
screens: radar-identified aircraft, Capstone-equipped aircraft and
unidentified aircraft. Capstone was taken off the screen because
there was too much other traffic for controllers to monitor.
Capstone program director Sue Gardner said that the team from
the national Capstone program routinely examines the program.
"Yes, a team came up to examine the program. This is routine
when something is taken off the controllers' screen," Gardner
Gardner said that the there is no exact date for the restoring
the program at the Anchorage center and when it does go back
online, a new procedure will be required for air traffic
controllers at the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center.
Loss of service angers industry
The FAA's decision to shut down the Anchorage control center
portion of the Capstone program prompted a letter of protest by
Alaska aviation industry leaders to FAA Administrator Marion
Blakey. The letter has received no response.
"We no longer have confidence in the actions of the FAA, who has
implemented technology and then taken it away," said Jim Cieplac, a
former Capstone employee who now works for the Alaska Aviation
Safety Foundation. Cieplac said that the Alaska Air Carriers
Association, Alaska Airmen's Association, the Alaska Aviation
Safety Foundation and the Aviation Industry Council all signed off
on the letter that fell on deaf ears in Washington, D.C.
"We wrote a letter and asked for a response from the FAA
administrator by April 21, asking why it was turned off and when it
will be returned to service," Cieplac said. "It looks like the FAA
is taking steps backwards, no one is responding."
"We aren't getting any answers, things are pretty quiet about
this, but we are hearing from the carriers in Bethel about it,"
said Karen Casanovas, executive director of the Alaska Air Carriers
The Capstone technology is still active and working in the
Bethel area. The problem, however, is controllers in Anchorage
cannot track aircraft using traditional radar once they reach
Bethel. Before the Capstone technology was shut off at the
Anchorage control center, controllers could track a
Capstone-equipped aircraft from Anchorage to Bethel, switching over
to the Capstone technology once the aircraft was out of the view of
Following the recent FAA decision, Anchorage controllers once
again can no longer "see" aircraft once they get into the Bethel
"Capstone is off the glass, and we aren't sure exactly why,"
said Bethel pilot Will Johnson with Yuut Yuqungviat Flight School.
"But the carriers out here are steaming mad about it." The reason
that the FAA developed the Capstone program in Bethel was to aid in
tracking aircraft in the area without the expense of putting a $50
million radar facility.
"I find it ridiculous
that the center has been providing radar and ADS-B service to
aircraft for five years in the Bethel area, and now they can't do
it," said Dee Hanson, executive director of the Alaska Airmen's
"We are coming into the busy season, spring and summer. This is
a very busy airport and when the weather gets bad, pilots tend to
rely on that new technology," Johnson said.
Capstone, a $130 million program, was scheduled to have been
implemented statewide during the 2005-2006 fiscal year.
According to the safety foundation's Cieplac, eight to 10 of the
ground-based transceivers that send and receive the Capstone signal
in the Bethel area are not functional despite being scheduled to be
turned on in 2005. He added that many of the transceivers in
Southeast Alaska are also not yet functioning.
"This is really discouraging," Cieplac said. "Everyone has
worked to make this a tool, a pillar of safety, and now a vital
part of this link is mysteriously missing. You have to have faith
that it will someday be restored."