Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Logan International Airport: Bogies Explained As 'Faulty Antenna'

Radar Traffic Controller
New antenna ends radar errors at Logan

Massport seeks probe of response

By Mac Daniel
The Boston Globe

Radar Antenna Cropped     A replacement radar antenna yesterday ended a malfunction that delayed flights into Logan International Airport for two full days, according to Massachusetts Port Authority and FAA officials.

     But peeved Massport officials demanded an investigation into what they said was a slow federal response to the flight delays, which they said cost airlines and travelers millions of dollars in lost productivity, wasted fuel, and other expenses.

     ''I am concerned about the quality of the fix and the repair, and I want to make sure that we get the attention of the FAA to get the best people they have and to get something like this resolved in a timely manner," Craig P. Coy, chief executive officer at the authority, said during a Massport board meeting yesterday. ''This is a very costly endeavor to have these kinds of delays. It's been a tough couple of days for our customers."

     Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said federal officials began working on the problem as soon as they knew about it, bringing in a team of specialists from Atlantic City ''when we realized we needed more sophisticated testing equipment."

     ''Our technicians were out working on this in bad weather 'round the clock," she said in an interview yesterday.

     The radar system was running normally at 6:15 a.m. yesterday, according to Massport officials, after FAA technicians installed an unused antenna from Bangor International Airport in Maine.

     Tests late Tuesday on the old control tower antenna showed that it may have been responsible for the erroneous blips on controllers' radar screens that delayed flights.

     Earlier tests found no problems with the antenna, though those examinations involved less sophisticated equipment, said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Murray.

     As a result of the replaced antenna, Massport officials said the FBI, which was contacted by Massport officials Tuesday, ruled out sabotage as a possible cause of the problems, said Massport spokesman Phil Orlandella.

     Massport officials, who run the airport, also urged the FAA to install a backup radar system at Logan. Thomas J. Kinton Jr., Massport aviation director, said in an interview that it was unacceptable that the backup radar system deployed by the FAA requires twice as much spacing between aircraft to maintain safety. ''We have to have a redundant backup system that gives us the same level of quality," he said.

     Coy also sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey yesterday, calling Logan's backup radar system ''completely insufficient."

     ''The radar problem coming on the heels of a recent rash of runway incursions at Logan has kept us in the spotlight and created anxiety and concern among our customers," Coy wrote.

     Brown said FAA officials were willing to meet with Massport officials to discuss their concerns, but questioned the need for a backup radar system at Logan. Few of the nation's largest airports have an on-site backup system.

     ''It wouldn't be a cost-effective use of taxpayer money to have a multimillion-dollar radar system sitting in a shed on-site in case something happens," she said. ''We have available spare parts nearby, and in this case we were able to bring equipment from Bangor, Maine, immediately."

     The ''false targets" first appeared Sunday on radar screens at Logan and a New Hampshire regional control center, sounding collision alarms and forcing air traffic controllers to use a backup radar system in Nashua that made them space incoming flights farther apart. The increased spacing and the use of only one runway for incoming flights caused planes to arrive at Logan two to four hours late Monday and Tuesday, slowing travel at the end of a holiday weekend. Outbound flights were also delayed, causing a ripple effect that stranded thousands of passengers at Logan and across the country.

     At times Monday and Tuesday, Logan was able to handle just 26 or 28 incoming flights every hour, down from a good-weather peak of 60 an hour.

     Some airlines were still recovering from the disruptions, but Massport officials reported mostly minor delays yesterday, caused by heavy storms approaching from the southwest. According to the FAA website, planes leaving Logan yesterday afternoon for Newark, Philadelphia, and New York were delayed by more than three hours.

     To make amends for the delays, Massport offered 10 percent discounts on shopping at Logan terminals yesterday.

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