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Problems in Air Traffic Control and Proposed Solutions
In northern California this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) unintentionally performed it's first operational test of "free flight";
aviation without direct air traffic control. This was an unintentional
experiment because it was a result of a total shut-down of the Oakland Air Route
Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).
Although Oakland is only the 16th busiest ARTCC, it's responsible for
the largest block of airspace of any ATC facility; 18 million square miles.
Oakland directs all upper-level flight from San Luis Obispo, California to the
California/Oregon boarder, including most Pacific oceanic routes. The failure
happened at 7:13 a.m. local time during the morning "departure push".
Controllers estimated there were 60-80 aircraft under their control when the
power died. All radar screens went dark and all radios went silent. It took 45
minutes to restore radios and bring up a backup radar system. It was more than
an hour before the main radar presentations came on line.
One controller described the sudden quiet in the control suite as "the
loudest silence I've ever heard" (UPI , 1995). He went on to say there was
"panic on everybody's face" as they realized they had been rendered deaf, dumb,
and blind by this catastrophic equipment failure. It took a few minutes for
controllers to realize the shut-down had affected the entire facility. There was
no book procedure to cover this emergency scenari...