Wednesday, January 09, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- January 9

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jan 9, 1976: As of this date, FAA implemented a conflict alert system, capable of warning air traffic controllers of less-than-standard separation between aircraft under their control, at all 20 air route traffic control centers in the contiguous U.S. FAA added the new conflict alert capability to the radar data processing system of the NAS En Route Stage A center computers (see Aug 26, 1975). The new system projected the flight paths of all aircraft on the controllers' radar sector for two minutes ahead, and flashed the relevant aircraft data tags if the projection showed the paths approaching closer than the required horizontal and vertical minimums. The controller could then radio appropriate orders to the aircraft to avoid a collision. The conflict alert system initially operated only above 18,000 feet, but by Dec 1978 all 20 centers had implemented it from the ground up. FAA later installed a similar capability in the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) computers (see Jan 10, 1978). “

”Jan 10, 1978: A conflict alert system designed to warn air traffic controllers of potential midair collisions in busy terminal areas became operational at Houston International Airport, the first Automated Terminal Radar System (ARTS III) to be so equipped. The terminal conflict alert system was similar to the one installed in the 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (see Jan 9, 1976). In Apr 1980, FAA completed the commissioning of conflict alert at 62 designated terminals. “

Unless I miss my guess, there was some event -- some incident -- that triggered the installation of the Conflict Alert feature. Unfortunately, I don’t know what it was.

On rare occasions, the FAA -- as in institution -- gets scared. Individual controllers get scared on a regular basis. They know what they were thinking (or not thinking) and realize how close they came to causing a disaster. But the FAA, because it doesn’t think (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), is never aware of most of those events. On those rare occasions when it does become aware of an event, where the airplanes got so close that it scares you -- even on the replay -- they take action.

In 1999 there was one such event over Kansas. You can read the short version of the NTSB report here or you can go over to AVweb and read an article I wrote about it here. In case you’re too busy, a DC-10 and an L-1o11 missed each other by about 1,500 feet -- laterally -- at Flight Level 330. The kicker was that they weren’t talking to ATC at the time. Neither one of them.

Mr. Murphy is a very creative author. Assuming you like horror stories.

Don Brown
January 9, 2008

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