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ATL's New Control Tower

HoserASA

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A Tall Tale

May 9, 2006 10:42:01 AM

On May 6, 2006, the FAA commissioned the world’s tallest air traffic control tower at the world’s busiest passenger airport. The agency committed a world-class blunder in opening this facility prematurely, and the FAA put the safety of the traveling public at risk in the process. Let’s examine the issue.
The opening was designed to be a media event, but for air traffic controllers working the facility, it turned out to be an event, all right---a three ring circus.
For starters, the structure is 398 feet tall. When the day shift arrived, they discovered the elevator out of service. Unfortunately, their security cards did not work to access the stairwell either, so they had to wait nearly an hour for someone with an appropriate swipe card to arrive and let them into the stairwell so they could begin the 602-step climb to the top. The skeleton midnight shift worked into the morning waiting for relief. Once the elevator was repaired it was able to function, but only with a technician riding on top of the elevator, pushing two buttons for manual override of the automatic system.
When the day shift finally crested the steps in the world’s newest air traffic control facility, they saw a gleaming tower full of shiny, modern equipment that didn’t work. The list of equipment logged out by the FAA for some or all of the first day includes:
TDLS (the digital ATIS)---out of service
EFSTS (the electronic flight strip system)---out of service
ACE/IDS/RVR interface ots
Elevator---out of service
All Ramp tower lines---out of service
API line---out of service
FDIO---out of service
PDC---out of service
Final monitor over ride---malfunctioning
119.3 (Local Control frequency)---out of service
118.7 Main---out of service
IDS---will not populate updates to other IDS Positions
ITWS (Integrated Terminal Weather System)---out of service
121.75 (Ground Control)---out of service
ICMS Aural Alarm---out of service
LLWAS (Low Level Wind Shear Alert System)---out of service
ARMT (Airport Resource Management Tool)---out of service
121.9 main (Ground Control)---out of service
Numerous nuisance alarms throughout the day
Remember now, we aren’t talking about Dodge City, Kansas here. We are talking about working live traffic at the world’s busiest airport. Without frequencies. Without weather equipment. Without wind shear warnings. Without flight data.
To top that off, there is a loud noise in the background as if a large ventilation fan is running. When asked, management’s response was, “What noise?” Facility management did seek out the source of the droning noise in the background, and reported back that it was the ASDE-X on the roof. If this is the case, this is going to be a major problem. Controllers working in the new facility report the noise to be so loud it is distracting.
Just days before opening the controllers got quick briefings on some of the new equipment and how it works. How to turn on and off localizers, glide slopes and the like. Once in the new facility, personnel discovered that not all employees had been assigned lockers. There are no computers to access the Employee Express system that management requires the employees to use. There have been no life-fire briefings or escape plans discussed or drilled. The break room tables and floor were littered with the morning’s celebratory pizza boxes well into the evening, since no one bothered to set up trash cans.
From the new tower you can see clearly into the old tower, where the ATIS, FDIO and LLWAS are all lit up and working. The agency was determined to open the new Atlanta Tower on May 6th, and their obstinance reduced safety while increasing delays. The opening of the new Atlanta Tower was a perfect example of what happens when you put the wrong number of people in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I have no doubt we will soon be hearing about all the awards given out for a “job well done.” Wings, anybody?
PS…….At the new Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC, a new tower is growing tall out of the prairie, and it is already the subject of much discussion. Rumor has it that many of the newly installed consoles face the wrong direction. Additionally, the FAA apparently wanted to host a press open house not that long ago so the contractor put up some drywall for interior camera shots. The trouble? Apparently they didn’t put in the roof or the ceiling, and of course it has since rained. This has created a mold problem in the building before it’s first day of occupancy. We’ll keep you posted as these monuments to air traffic system


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