Outage disrupts hundreds of airline flights Air traffic control center in Kansas City disabled

December 19, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A brief and supposedly impossible power failure at an air traffic control center near Kansas City tore the heart out of the Federal Aviation Administration's national network for several hours yesterday morning, forcing hundreds of planes to be diverted or delayed and inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers.

College students on their way home for Christmas, business executives making late-week flights, and families getting an early start on holiday travel sat in airports into the evening as delays cascaded around the country.

The episode was the latest in an improbable series of air traffic problems in recent months.

Intermittent power failures have occurred around the country, particularly at National Airport in Washington. The outages have happened even though the air traffic control centers are so vital to safe air travel that tens of millions of dollars have been spent to install "uninterruptible" power supplies.

The failure yesterday, at 9: 03 a.m., CST, occurred when a technician was performing maintenance on just such equipment. The proper procedure is to route the power through half of a redundant system and then check the other half. In this case, the technician pulled a circuit board on the wrong half and "powered down the system that was online," according to Ronald Morgan, director of air traffic.

The error bypassed the emergency generators and emergency batteries. It brought down the system that displays radar information, the system that lets controllers and pilots talk by radio, and the special telephone lines that connect controllers in Kansas City with those in distant cities.

In yesterday's failure, limited radio communications were restored after four minutes, and limited radar information after 20 minutes; it took two hours to restore the whole system.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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