Outage in air traffic system in Miami causes groundings, confusion; 60 flights delayed

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 2:19 pm
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) A computerized air traffic system experienced a temporary outage in South Florida, forcing controllers to ground some flights and resulting in at least four instances in which planes almost came too close together, officials said Tuesday.

Monday's outage affecting the Miami Center radar complex lasted about an hour, but a backup system was activated and flights in the air were not in danger, said Kathleen Bergen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Atlanta.

``There was never a loss of communication with flights and controllers did not lose their radar displays,'' Bergen said.

Still, the outage caused confusion and tension among controllers in Miami, who had trouble establishing and maintaining aircraft identification because enough flight plan information was not available through their computers, said Steven Wallace, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Miami.

The problem was caused by failure of a telecommunications cable linking high-altitude air traffic control centers in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Bergen said.

Bergen said that as a precaution the FAA grounded about 60 flights controlled by Miami Center at airports in Florida and at Nassau, Bahamas. The average delay was about 30 minutes, he said.

Wallace said there were four cases in which planes almost violated FAA rules that flights at high altitudes must remain at least 5 miles apart horizontally and 1,000 feet vertically.