SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCPLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
COMPUTER OUTAGES AT THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION'S AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER IN AURORA, ILLINOIS
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 1995
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, in Room 2025, FAA Air Traffic Control Center, Aurora, Illinois, at 10 a.m., before the Honorable John Duncan, Subcommittee Chair.
Mr. DUNCAN. I want to call the Subcommittee hearing to order. I would like to, first of all, thank everyone for taking time out from what I know are very busy schedules to be at this hearing.
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I especially want to thank the witnesses who have come here today and from whom we'll hear in just a few minutes. I want to thank, once again, all the members of the Aviation Subcommittee and especially my ranking member and longtime former Chairman of this Subcommittee, Jim Oberstar, and Vice Chairman Jerry Weller. Jerry and his colleague, Ray LaHood, I think were the first two to approach me about this hearing and our fine member, Tom Ewing, also has worked with us on this.
Frankly, I thought that it might just be a small field hearing, but there has been tremendous interest generated in the subject of this hearing here today.
I'm also pleased to welcome several other Illinois members who are not part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but who are interested in maintaining a safe aviation system. The FAA has the reputation of having the safest aviation system in the world. However, recent computer outages and power outages at the air traffic control centers have made aviation travelers across the country question how long this reputation can be maintained.
Outages have occurred at the Aurora Traffic Control Center eight times in the last year. During these outages, controllers have been left, at best, with backup systems to control aircraft and, at worst, controllers were left with no power at all. Most of the outages have been the result of a failing 1970 vintage computer at this center. It is hard to understand why one of the most technically advanced countries, with nearly half the world's aviation traffic, is depending on 25- or 30-year-old equipment.
FAA had planned to have this computer system replaced by now under the advanced automation system program. However, the AAS program to replace air traffic control computers is 10 years behind schedule and some $4 billion over budget. We can discuss the technical reasons for the computer outages, but the fact is that if the FAA had been able to procure replacement equipment quickly, we wouldn't be at this hearing today.
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Most critics agree that the Federal procurement rules have added to the FAA's inability to purchase and install equipment quickly. The current procurement laws and regulations mean that the FAA has to abide by thousands of pages of detailed provisions, requiring numerous reviews, evaluations and extensive documentation to purchase equipment. Although the laws and regulations are intended to ensure a competitive and fair procurement process, they actually prevent creativity and the ability for the FAA to keep up with rapidly changing technology in a cost-effective and businesslike manner.
That is why, as mentioned at the press conference earlier, I have introduced, along with Mr. Oberstar and Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot and some 20 other republican and democratic co-sponsors, a few days ago, H.R. 2276, the FAA Revitalization Act. This bill could fix many of the procurement problems by giving the FAA the chance to develop a private sector and businesslike procurement system.
In addition, the FAA Revitalization Act takes the aviation trust fund off-budget and out from under the government budget process. The FAA will be able to spend the $6 billion that aviation users pay into the trust fund annually. In addition, the FAA would be allowed to spend the some $5 billion surplus in the trust fund.
Our bill would allow the funds to support computer modernization and other aviation infrastructure projects instead of using it to mask the deficit and spend for all sorts of other things. The U.S. aviation system handles over 500 million passengers annually. Experts predict that in the next 10 years, there will be nearly one billion airline passengers annually.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To assure that safety is maintained during this growth in aviation, we need to address these computer upgrades immediately. Today, I am pleased that we will have the opportunity to hear from FAA employees, controllers and maintenance technicians from the so-called trenches. These are the people who have to get the computers back on line when they fail. These are the ones who must continue to manage aircraft, even when they have only backup computers. These are the people who come to work in the middle of the night to conduct routine maintenance on the air traffic control equipment so that the aviation system remains safe.
One of the things, as Mr. Oberstar has pointed out, that our bill would address would be changes in the FAA personnel procedures which would allow the movement of more experienced personnel into this facility and other facilities with high density aviation traffic, and that's another very necessary step if we're going to really improve aviation safety and move this system into the 21st century.
We are here today to try to understand or try to learn why these air traffic facilities are failing and what we can do to stop these unacceptable outages. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, specifically those from the Chicago area.
At this time, I would like to introduce the ranking member of the Subcommittee, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and my congratulations to you on bringing this Committee to where the problem is and where the people are and where the equipment is. This is an example of government serving the needs of people where it's most convenient for them.
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I also want to commend the Vice Chairman, Mr. Weller, for his persistence in bringing these problems to our attention and asking for the hearing to be held right here at Aurora Center, which is entirely appropriate.
Hardly a week has gone by that the FAA has not reported some type of outage at one or more of its air traffic control facilities. In some cases, the outages have lasted for hours and have significantly impacted air traffic. Others have been short in duration and very manageable by the technicians in the air traffic control system.
In all, on average, the FAA experiences some 12,000 outages a month. That has been the case throughout the system for more than a decade. Much of that, 90 percent of it, is planned outage, but it's the unplanned that has us concerned. In response to the Administration's call for a government corporation to run the air traffic control system, which I vigorously opposed and I think it's a bad idea, is now buried, the point that I made all along is that we don't need a corporation to run the air traffic control system. We need some improvements in the way it operates. It is the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world. It is also the biggest.
Every year, a billion people travel by air worldwide. Half of them travel in the United States, in our air traffic control system. What we have observed is that operations have increased 39 percent since deregulation, while delays due to air traffic have declined 15 percent. The system, the technicians who keep it operating, and the air traffic controllers, who are the heart and soul of our air traffic control system, deserve the credit for that heroic effort.
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But it also of great concern to me that we should not alarm the public. While trying to sell its idea for an air traffic control corporation, the Administration and the Department, in particular, went too far holding up a vacuum tube and punch cards saying that the system is dependent upon antiquated, unsafe equipment. The predictable consequence of that action has been that the news media and the traveling public viewed outages as an example of an unsafe system.
This system is safe. It takes great effort to keep it safe. It will continue to be safe. It needs to be replaced.
I'm confident of the skill and the dedication of the controllers, but I'm also an ardent supporter of replacing the air traffic control system with the designed advanced automation system that is now under contract and toward which we are working. But it is indisputable that the outages in the system, to which air traffic control has been increasingly subjected, could have been avoided if the modernization had proceeded without the delays. If we had the equipment in place now that is envisioned for '97, '98 and '99, we would not have the problems that we have today.
Much of that problem is attributable to the 9020E computer. I guess I've been in Congress long enough to have seen the host system installed and the 9020E installed and to recognize that this is early 1970s technology. But of greater concern to me is that there are few technicians available to maintain that equipment. And unless the personnel problems are addressed, that problem is going to get worse.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When the 9020E goes down, many of the backup safety features, collision avoidance, minimum altitude warning systems, become unavailable to the controller. The system goes on DARC, that is direct access channel radar. It becomes very difficult for one controller alone to manage it and you need backup controllers and you don't have backup technology.
Moving ahead with personnel reform to give the FAA the flexibility it needs to put the most experienced controllers in the most demanding positions, with procurement reform to speed up the acquisition of the technology needed to keep the system modern, and to speed up the interim computer replacement system, are the key issues facing the FAA and facing the Congress. That is why we have joined in introducing legislation to take the FAA out of the Department of Transportation, restore it as an independent agency, give it the personnel, the flexibility, the procurement flexibility, and freeing the aviation trust fund from the unified budget of the Federal Government so that the FAA can have a dependable revenue stream to acquire the technology it needs.
We are here to hear what those in the field with hands-on experience, whose daily work is the maintenance of the system and the safety of air traffic control, have to say about the problem. There is nothing better than being on the floor, seeing the controllers work, and to go into the control facility itself and to the 9020E system and take a look at that and talk to the maintenance personnel. They are the heart and soul of this system. Thank God they're here, they're experienced, they're dedicated, they're keeping it alive until the replacement technology comes along.
Mr. Chairman, again, thank you for holding this hearing and for the time you have devoted and the energy you have given to this issue.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar. Next, we'll call on Vice Chairman Weller.
Mr. WELLER. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you personally for responding to the request of the Illinois delegation to conduct today's hearing, which is an important concern for everyone, not only in the Chicago area, but the whole Nation, regarding our air traffic control facilities and the problems that they've been witnessing as they've been watching the news over the last several months.
The Aurora Air Route Traffic Control Center, which serves the Nation's busiest airport, Chicago O'Hare, is equipped with a 1960s vintage IBM 9020E computer, which has failed eight times in the last year. In August, the DCC was down for a period of over 29 hours straight. Other centers around the country that utilize this same system have also been subject to similar failures. As a matter of fact, there have been over 50 failures amongst these five sites over the last year.
It's increasingly clear that this outdated and antiquated equipment is becoming less tolerant and more prone to experience problems and outages. The record of DCC failures has steadily increased over the last year. In fact, Chicago O'Hare and other air traffic facilities serving the world's busiest airports were operating at reduced capacity repeatedly this summernot because of ice, sleet or bad weather, but because of outdated, antiquated equipment
Today, the FAA is the world's largest purchaser of vacuum tubes, having spent $6.9 million on vacuum tubes in 1994. Computers here in the basement of the Aurora Center are programmed with computer punch cards, all technologies that have been abandoned by the private sector decades ago.
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Today we hope to hear from air traffic controllers who have real experiences here at the Aurora Center, who have worked with the system that we currently we have in the place and to examine what actually happens when the system fails. I also hope to look further into the situation we are facing with the replacement computers, known as the advanced automation system. This new computer system, which was to be installed in Chicago and other air traffic control centers, as we well know, is now 10 years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget.
We must ask ourselves why we have allowed the situation to continue this long when we are dealing with the safety of millions of lives each year. I have encouraged the FAA, as have others in the Illinois delegation, to consider, and we are pleased to say that they have decided to go ahead with plans to install an interim system at Aurora Center until the AAS is ready for installment as early as 1999.
However, the DCC replacement will not be ready for installment at Chicago until late 1997. This still leaves a 2-year timeframe with the current system, which is becoming increasingly less reliable. Until then, we need to explore other ways to ensure that air traffic control remains safe and reliable for the traveling public. One option is to send more qualified controllers and technicians to these centers, including Aurora.
As of July, the Aurora Center was 84 people short of the staffing standards set by the FAA. A Government Accounting Office study found that many facilities do not have the necessary technical support to maintain the equipment, as many technicians are nearing retirement. This same GAO study indicates that Chicago Center is currently below staffing standards for technicians and will continue to fall over the next 4 years. It would be very beneficial for the FAA to gain some relief from the burdensome personnel standards that it currently operates with.
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We appreciate the commitment of the FAA to provide additional controllers here at Aurora. However, we are concerned that most of them are inexperienced and would require up to 2 years of training, and, of course, by then, the interim system will be up and running. We need qualified controllers in place now.
To that end, I would briefly like to touch on legislation that has been introduced to reform the FAA. Together with Chairman Duncan and ranking member Oberstar, I and many others in the Transportation Committee are cosponsoring legislation, a bipartisan bill, which would establish the FAA as an independent agency, out from the politics of the Secretary's office, and will work towards addressing many of the problems that our friends at the FAA are currently facing.
This legislation will, of course, allow for scrapping the outdated, burdensome personnel and procurement and budget policies of the FAA, as well as allowing to put in place modern, new, 21st century management practices. It will allow the FAA to operate more like a business and bring in place and put in place quickly 21st century technology. The legislation will also guarantee a steady source of revenue directly from the Federal aviation trust fund.
I want to point out that this legislation was endorsed by U.S.A. Today and I have an editorial here from the September 15th edition of the U.S.A. Today which I would like to submit into the record.
At this time, I will close. I anxiously await the testimony of Speaker Daniels, my former leader in the Illinois House, and others who live day to day with our air traffic control system. Today we hope to have some answers and also hear some possible solutions to the problems that face us.
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Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for conducting this hearing. I also want to thank my colleagues who traveled long distances to be here today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Weller. I'll call on Congressman Bob Borski at this time.
Mr. BORSKI. Mr. Chairman, I'm just delighted to be here with you and Mr. Oberstar and our distinguished Vice Chairman and I look forward to hearing our witnesses today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. We'll call on our very fine colleague, Tom Ewing.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Speaker Daniels and my former colleagues at the table from the Illinois General Assembly. We're glad to have you here today.
I'm going to submit my statement for the record and not take time from our distinguished panelists and administrative officials who are here today to talk to us about this problem. But I think, Mr. Chairman, you should be congratulated for bringing this hearing here. There is no more important problem to be solved than getting our air traffic control system working well here in Chicago and around the country.
The record of updating our air traffic control equipment is deplorable. The costs are enormously over budget and this Committee and the FAA should make upgrading these facilities their top priority.
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With that, I would welcome my other colleagues here to Illinois. We're going to have a good hearing and I think we're on the right track. I will just submit my comments for the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Congressman Ewing. We'll go next to Congressman Tim Hutchison of Arkansas.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Mr. Chairman, I'm going to submit my opening statement for the record, also. Let me just join my colleagues in thanking you for calling this hearing. I think it's very important. I look forward to the testimony and to the answers that we'll hear today. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Next, we'll go to another fine member of our Subcommittee, Congressman Ray LaHood.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Chairman, in the interest of time, I'd like to submit my statement into the record and reiterate my thanks to you. I think you will recall that when the computers went down over O'Hare a few months ago, Jerry Weller and I asked if you would come out and you
Mr. DUNCAN. That's right.
Mr. LAHOOD.did not flinch or raise a doubt about it. You said we'll do it and we're grateful to you for bringing all of these members to Illinois. I, too, welcome my former leader and colleague, Speaker Daniels, and for bringing your colleagues here today and we look forward to your testimony and that of the other witnesses. Thank you.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ray. Next, we'll go to really our host here, Congressman Denny Hastert.
Mr. HASTERT. I certainly want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing this hearing to my district and want to welcome you here today. We have some great September weather for you, we hope, the great Illinois indian summer.
But I am concerned certainly with the repeated system outages here at the air traffic control center in Aurora. It's really one of the pulses of the Nation as far as safety in air traffic, the ability for our air traffic system and our commerce system to be able to move.
This facility is the busiest air route center in the United States. It's responsible for traffic for all over the midwest. We're now trying to make emergency repairs to a computer system that was designed back when I was a high school student just down the road here. So we need to be able to move along and bring obsolete technology back into the time of the 21st century.
And I'd be remiss, though, to point out that we have been successful as we have been because we havecomputers and hardware are only part of the aspect of what we do here and the valuable commodity that we have is of the many dedicated and skilled air traffic controllers and the system specialists who operate these machines to ensure the safety of the flying public.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So we'd like to bring all thesesome of them are defaults and problems and a lot of them are positives, and bring them together to see that we can ensure the viability of the air traffic control center, that we can see this whole situation upgraded and technology upgraded, and so that we have 150 percent confidence of the American flying public.
I will submit the rest of my statement for the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Denny. Last, but certainly not least, a very fine member from Rockford, Illinois, Mr. Don Manzullo.
Mr. MANZULLO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a real pleasure to be here today. I found out about the problems occurring here in O'Hare by listening to the numerous air traffic controllers that live in the district that I represent. In fact, Dan Peese a few minutes ago took me on a tour of these very antiquated and old facilities and I know members of Congress, other than myself, were absolutely shocked to see how old this equipment was.
So it's a joy to be here. We commend the FAA for allowing us to have these hearings, but most of all we commend the men and women that make up the real superstructure to keep these airplanes separated.
I would like to ask permission to submit a written statement.
Mr. DUNCAN. Without objection, so ordered. Also, I've been asked to submit for the record a statement by Congressman Harris Fawell from this state and, also, I believe, Jerry, you have a statement from Congressman Henry Hyde.
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Mr. WELLER. Yes. Congressman Hyde asked that we submit his statement for the record. I also have a statement here from the Suburban O'Hare Commission, which they'd like submitted for the record, as well.
Mr. DUNCAN. Those will be placed in the record.
[The information referred to follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. We're very honored at this time to have six outstanding members from the State House of Illinois. I understand that I said that Denny Hastert was our host, but we have Representative Sue Deuchler. And Representative Deuchler, I understand that this is your district, also. Is that correct?
Ms. DEUCHLER. That is correct.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, we're certainly pleased to be here today. And we have State Representative Roger McAuliffe. I will introduce the next gentleman in just a moment. Then we have State Representative Terry Parke. We have State Representative Bob Biggins and State Representative Patricia Lindner. We appreciate very much each of you turning out for our hearing.
At this time, we'll call as the first witness the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the State of Illinois, the Honorable Lee Daniels. Speaker Daniels, it is indeed a real honor for us to have you as our first witness this morning. You may proceed.
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TESTIMONY OF HON. LEE DANIELS, SPEAKER, ILLINOIS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Mr. DANIELS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. I want to say hello to my former colleagues in the Illinois House and the outstanding Illinois delegation and appreciate everyone's attendance today at this hearing and the opportunity to speak.
Today, I testify before the House Aviation Subcommittee, representing thousands of constituents who live and work around O'Hare International Airport, located in my legislative district. As a matter of fact, when you land at O'Hare, you are literally landing in my district and, of course, impacting many of the constituents that live in the area.
The legislators that are before you today all represent areas surrounding O'Hare, Aurora, and are impacted by the Aurora area. As a public official, along with other members of the Illinois House of Representatives in attendance today, I must answer my constituents' call for public safety, including safe airways. How can I rationalize to residents of this area that the skies are safe when the computer tracking air traffic has broken down more than half-dozen times this year, with increasing frequency, resulting in numerous delays and near misses?
I want to first congratulate the air traffic controllers and maintenance personnel that operate this system, because I think they are doing an outstanding job with very difficult equipment and at difficult times.
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Aurora Air Control Center is the busiest hub in an extraordinarily large and complex national air space system, serving more than 175,000 general aviation aircraft and 10,000 military aircraft. Located in the heart of the country, Aurora plays a huge role in continental and international air traffic. Aurora is responsible for 120,000 square miles of air space and over 9,000 flights per day.
O'Hare Airport, the busiest airport in the world, is based within Aurora's jurisdiction. Flights in and out of O'Hare Airport number approximately 2,800 or 32 percent of the daily flights monitored by O'Hare. Peak days may result in 3,000 operations at O'Hare. In addition, several hundred flights go through Midway and DuPage Airports daily.
All of these facts lead to a logical conclusion. The FAA needs to take immediate emergency action in order to rectify a dangerous situation in Aurora. The FAA must act on the concerns of Congressmen, state legislators, air traffic controllers and the general public. Countless news stories in the past few weeks have focused on the problem in this location. The time for listening, I believe, is over. It is now time for action.
The FAA must immediately update the air traffic computers to bring the Aurora Air Control Center into the 21st century. Specifically, I believe that two steps must be taken to help resolve this problem and ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands of people. I implore the FAA to immediately install the display computer complex replacement, DCCR, an interim radar system, in Aurora. Implementation of this interim system should alleviate the computer shutdowns, resulting in increased safety, while the permanent solution is developed.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Every time the computer shuts down, flights are delayed, resulting in scheduling difficulties for travelers and compromising business and commerce which rely on air travel. The safety of the air control system is paramount and sometimes in order to maintain safety, the use of a temporary system is necessary.
Generally, the Federal procurement process is excessively lengthy and cumbersome. Regulations governing Federal procurement constitute many thousands of pages of detailed provisions, requiring numerous reviews, evaluation and extensive documentation.
For that reason, I urge Congress to adopt Federal procurement rules as they apply to the FAA and I congratulate the Chairman and members of this Committee for House Resolution 2276 that has been introduced by the Chairman, Representative Weller and others on this Committee who are sponsoring legislation that seeks to reform the bureaucratic process involved with purchasing.
Let me just close by saying this. We live in this area amongst perhaps some of the most outstanding computer networks in the world today. Argonne National Laboratory is just a few miles away from here, with the most powerful computer system that the world has ever seen. The University of Illinois, in Champagne-Urbana, has developed NETSCAPE and the introduction into the worldwide internet. With that kind of technology available right in this area, it just seems reasonable that we could develop instantaneously a computer system that would alleviate much of the problems we have today.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I thank you for your time, the ability to appear before you, and the good work that you are doing.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Speaker Daniels, thank you very much for that very fine testimony. Because of time constraints, we're going to have to keep our questions brief and answers brief. I'm not sure that we'll have quite as many questions for Speaker Daniels as we will for maybe some of the other witnesses. But we have a lot of witnesses today and I want to thank you for being here.
Last Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Frederico Peña released a statement because of all the concern about the air traffic control system and he said that the Nation's air traffic control system was operating better than at any time in the past 12 years, according to the figures that he has.
Based on everything that you've heard and read and been able to find out in your discussions with some of your constituentsand I understand that you have O'Hare Airport in your district.
Mr. DANIELS. That's correct.
Mr. DUNCAN. Is that correct?
Mr. DANIELS. That is correct.
Mr. DUNCAN. Do you feel that the system is operating better now than at any time in the recent past?
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DANIELS. I don't know how he could reasonably make that statement. Let me tell you if there is a reason for that, it's only because of the personnel, because they are handicapped with an antiquated system.
Even in my own house, I have given away old computers that no longer operate based upon modern technology. My own house, I have upgraded my computers so my kids can stay up-to-date with the new systems. It's just incredible to me that when you're dealing with the very safety of individuals in the skies, that we don't have the most comprehensive and updated and current system in the world today.
And living around O'Hare field and seeing flights fly over not only my home, but throughout the flight pattern, at times every one minute and 15 seconds, one only needs to wonder how long it will be before we face that tragedy that we all fear.
Now, we're not here today to scare people. We're here for resolution. On behalf of the Illinois General Assembly, we can only do so much because this is generally a Federal problem. But we stand ready, willing and able to do what we can to assist you in this important work.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much. I assure you that those are the goals of this Subcommittee. We want to find out if there is a problem and we want to find out what we can do about it. And if there's not a problem, then we want to reassure the flying public that the situation is perhaps better than we thought. That's why we hold these hearings.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Speaker Daniels and your colleagues. I understand your concerns, as state legislators who represent people in and around the area, for improving the safety of the system.
A couple of observations. First, you asked for immediate replacement. Of course, you realize that there's no immediate equipment that FAA can bring in tomorrow, if by immediate you mean tomorrow, nor software they can install tomorrow. But if by immediate you mean a course of action with a definitive timetable and a specific objective to be met, I think the 16 months, with hopefully compressing some of that time down to maybe 14 months, is a reasonable objective.
Do you feel comfortable with that?
Mr. DANIELS. Well, I think you're talking about the givens. My concern has been the 10-year delay that we've seen already. And, obviously, we can't move the equipment in tomorrow. But as I toured Argonne National Laboratory and their computer system and the University of Illinois, I'd sit there and I'd say why can't we be utilizing their services to upgrade this system immediately. And when I say immediately, within the realm of possibility.
But there are no excuses here. We're not here to find fault. We're here to correct a problem and to assist those fine people that keep our skies safe.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But if this Committee would, as I'm sure it will, under the Chairman's leadership, and as we are doing with the advanced automation system, require regular reports from the FAA, we get monthly reports from them on the progress now of all the advanced automation systems. So we know what's on schedule and what has slipped and what they're doing about that which has slipped.
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If the Committee takes that type of action with respect to the five centers, specifically Chicago Center, I would hope you'd feel comfortable that the Committee is on top of it and the FAA is on top of it.
Second, that the personnel required are being put in place, personnel meaning additional controllers, center controllers, and maintenance personnel. If the budget is further cut and you have to take personnel cuts, there are the most experienced controllers are going to leave because their incentive pay has been removed, those who have moved here, and the most experienced maintenance personnel will leave, that will be a greater threat to the system than anything else.
Mr. DANIELS. Well, I understand we're about 84 positions short right now within this locale. I'm not going to get into the debate on the budget cuts. I'm going to leave that to you. I've got enough problems within the State of Illinois.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well said.
Mr. DANIELS. I'm smart enough to stay out of that area. But let me say this. It is certainly true that one of our responsibilities as government officials is to protect not only the traveling public, but the public at large, and, certainly within that realm, we have a responsibility to find the dollars. And if it requires cuts from other avenues and other budgets that are not as critical, than so be it.
But I think that our charge as governments at all levels should be to work together, which is the reason that we wanted to be with you today; not only to encourage the fine work that you're doing, but to offer our assistance, if that assistance is needed.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. The FAA or the aviation trust fund is unique among all other budgets of the Federal Government, except for the highway trust fund because there a ticket tax is paid into the fund, dedicated for aviation purposes. Except for that portion, that is attributable to military air traffic control and the general benefit that the public derives from the air traffic control system.
This budget ought not to be cut. We've made a pact with the public and that's why the Chairman has introduced this bill and I'm a sponsor of it. Take the trust fund off budget and restore trust in the system.
Mr. DANIELS. Congressman, I like your bill.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar. Vice Chairman Weller.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just to be brief. I know that the five state legislators and Speaker Daniels have prepared statements, which I believe they would like to have inserted for the record and would ask that that courtesy be granted.
Mr. DUNCAN. Without objection, they'll be placed in the record.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WELLER. Mr. Speaker, I represent the south suburbs and part of the City of Chicago and, of course, we've served together. When I go to the gas station and the grocery store and talk to my neighbors, I've found over the last several months that one of the most commonly asked questions by my neighbors when I'm standing in line in the grocery store is ''What's happening with the air traffic control system? Are you guys going to get that fixed?''
And, of course, Mr. Oberstar and Chairman Duncan made reference to some of the solutions that we're bringing forward, but perception is so very important, particularly when we're talking about safe skies and flying in and out of O'Hare, which is in your district. Of course, with our legislation, we want to guarantee the necessary funding, the $5 billion, the surplus that's in the aviation trust fund, which is kind of like the motor fuel tax fund here in the State of Illinois. It's got a specific purpose. We want to use it for aviation.
The FAA has also suggested that or made a commitment that they will put in place additional air traffic controllers and technicians until the new computer system is in place in 16 months.
From the point of view of your constituents, those you talk with in the grocery store, do you feel that the action that the FAA has indicated they will do, that in 16 months they will put in an interim computer, that they will put in place 50 additional air traffic controllers here at Aurora Center, even though some of them were not ready to be put in place because they still have to be trained? Do you feel that the trust factor is there with your constituents that that's adequate?
Mr. DANIELS. Well, I don't know if that's adequate or not. I think, as Congressman Oberstar mentioned, we're here to deal with the circumstances that are before us. I would like something done immediately. It is apparent to me, from what I understand, that had not this Committee been working in the direction it had, we wouldn't even have the action that has been taken now on the 16-month timetable.
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So already you have done good work. I don't think that people are going to feel totally safe when they travel in the skies until this network is up to its capabilities and what it should be or until we have a full compliment of employees that are well trained in the area, but we certainly have to get started on it and you already have done good work in that direction.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, in recognition of the time constraints, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Weller. Mr. Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. No questions at this time.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much. Mr. Ewing.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Lee, for your testimony. I would just ask you to highlight one thing that you touched on, and that is the economic impact of this airport and what happens when people don't have confidence in it as far as a generator in this area. I'm sure you probably agree that is a major problem and something that you're concerned about here in the State of Illinois.
Mr. DANIELS. Congressman Ewing, I have lived around O'Hare field all my life. I remember clearly when the first jets started coming out of O'Hare field. I was happy at that time when they were coming out, only to be distressed later on because of the noise factors that we were facing.
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But there is no question about the fact that O'Hare field and the air network surrounding O'Hare field is not only the greatest system in the world, but also has brought tremendous economic positives to the area. Now, with that, of course, goes some negative and one of the negatives is to make sure that we do everything we can to address the problems of increased traffic in the sky.
We aren't here today to talk about whether or not O'Hare field should be expanded. That's for another hearing. We're here today to make sure that the skies are safe as a result of the air traffic system that we have in place.
But let me just say that every time it shuts down, it has a tremendous economic impact on this area. The traveling public is delayed and that delay has its domino effect throughout; even, surprisingly enough, will delay the road system around the area and the impact can be disastrous at times. More importantly, of course, it could delay some of the actions that you have as a Congressman. Imagine that, not being able to get back to Washington to vote on the budget. I know it's an incredible thought.
Mr. EWING. There's a couple votes we may want to stay out here on. So thank you for your comment. Thank you for being here and showing the support of the State of Illinois for putting the Aurora ARTCC up to speed and I think it will help us pursue our goals faster.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Tom. Mr. Hutchison.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HUTCHISON. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be in Illinois.
Mr. DANIELS. It's nice to meet you. I'm told you're the finest person from Arkansas.
Mr. HUTCHISON. And I know which side of this table you've been talking to.
Mr. DANIELS. Yes, sir.
Mr. HUTCHISON. We've heard a lot about the timeframe on getting the replacement computers in October 1997 and the need for development and testing. Do you think that the October 1997 date for the installation is reasonable as far as development or testing? Is there any kind of shortcut that can be done to make that kind of installation more timely?
Mr. DANIELS. Congressman, I don't know how to answer that other than as a lay person and, of course, your witnesses that you're going to have later on that are experts in the field will be able to give you a better answer.
But as a lay person, when I see the phenomenal events Bill Gates and Windows '95 and the tremendous developments out in Argonne National Laboratoryand I might suggest, if you haven't had a chance to go through Argonne, you might want to do that, because their computer network is second to none. The University of Illinois, which is a world leader in computer systems. We ought to gather all the finest minds, create a crisis within the government operation, and, by that, I mean a crisis for resolution and say this is something we have to tend to now and pull in the brightest minds we can to shorten this timeframe in the best fashion we can.
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I think the technology is there. I think we just need to excite people to get involved in the development of that. If we cut that down by a month, we're doing a tremendous service because we are protecting the traveling public.
Mr. HUTCHISON. I thank you for your endorsement of the legislation that our Chairman has taken the lead on. The legislation would create the independent agency, reform personnel and procurement system, free up the aviation trust fund so that it can be spent on modernizing the air traffic control system. Can you think of specifics that Congress, beyond this legislation, the areas that we need to be taking action to improve this system?
Mr. DANIELS. Well, we could get into a whole discussion of safety in the skies and how many planes should be running in and out of a particular airport. I'll leave that to further meetings and discussions. Certainly I am very concerned about that, but of overwhelming concern, of course, is the updating of the computer system, because tracking these increasing numbers of planes in the skies becomes of more critical importance.
But as I said, calling upon private industry and perhaps individuals to help would be the best assistance I think that could be done. That's why I like the direction of the legislation that Chairman Duncan and others in this Committee are sponsoring, because it seems to eliminate what should be a no-brainer. There are too many restrictions on government trying to resolve problems and that's why I like the direction of it.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Thank you. Thank you for your testimony, and I will yield back, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Hutchison. Mr. LaHood.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Chairman, if it wouldn't be out of order, I wonder if I could yield my time to any of these other distinguished state representatives who took the time to come here today just to see if they have any compelling issue that they want to raise with us or any statement that they would briefly like to make.
I would like to yield my time. I hope that's not out of order, but the fact that five other state representatives took the time to come here, I think, is significant and I'd like to yield my time to any one of them that would like to say anything or make a brief statement.
Mr. DUNCAN. I think that's a very fine suggestion.
Mr. DANIELS. Mr. Chairman, with leave, can we call on Representative Deuchler, whose district this is?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, we certainly can. That's fine.
Ms. DEUCHLER. Mr. Chairman, I'll just make my remarks very brief. I have talked to some of the controllers out here and seeing them as we're moving around the Aurora area and they're telling me that the emergency personnel filling the 84 slots that you are short here is just critical and that would help very much in this interim period.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Of course, I absolutely agree with the Speaker when he's talking about bringing in the private sector, getting the computer network upgraded quickly. But this additional personnel would just help so much. So I want to put a plug in for that. Thank you for coming out.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you. All right. Anyone else?
Mr. DANIELS. This is Representative Parke, who has the surrounding community around O'Hare field.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you. Representative Parke.
Mr. PARKE. Yes. I serve the 53rd district, which is the north and northwest parts of the surrounding of O'Hare Airport. I will tell you that in conversation with people in my district, they're very concerned because their homes are in the flight paths. They've put up with noise and pollution from the airport.
It has to go hand-in-hand with the economic development that's brought in and people understand that. But when you start talking about a system going down, whether the backup system, which we have confidence in, is available, it puts in the mind of those citizens a concern. I would hope that out of this hearing that we can put those citizens at ease.
But I will tell you what will really put them at easeto know that we are expediting not just having hearings, but expediting the process to get a modernized system on-line for this area. Now, I know that your job is for the whole country. I represent this area and there are serious concerns not only with the people on the ground, but the people who are flying. Most of us fly. I personally have concerns about the safety in the air and I want to be put at ease and I know that the people I represent do.
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So I cannot tell you how important this hearing is, but not just to having a hearing, but to take action, because that's what we're demanding that you do is take action. I'm confident with your leadership and the other members of this panel, many who I have served with, we will get moving on it.
I want to tell you I have submitted to the Clerk written testimony on this and I am pleased that we're moving forward with this.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. DANIELS. That's about the briefest I've ever seen in these people. So I appreciate your control over that. I may call you in the future.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Hastert.
Mr. HASTERT. Just very briefly. I just want to say that, Speaker Daniels, it's a pleasure to have you and five other members of the Illinois House here. I think that's typical of how our delegation, the congressional delegation and the state delegations work together, because almost everything that we do, from health care to air safety, on and on, really is a cooperative effort.
I salute you and your House and your members for, on a bipartisan basis, working with us and working on all these issues together and I think we need to keep on doing that. Thanks for being here today.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you. Mr. Manzullo.
Mr. MANZULLO. Mr. Speaker, in your travels around your district, I'm sure you've had the opportunity to come in contact with air traffic controllers. One of the things that I am hearing is the fact that people don't want to come to Chicago because they could go to other areas that have a lot less traffic, a lot less pressure, but they see essentially the same pay.
Have you heard those types of conversations?
Mr. DANIELS. That seems to be a little bit of a leading question, Congressman. You just want me to tell people to go to Rockford. I have heard the concerns about the increased traffic problems surrounding O'Hare. That, again, is another discussion on whether or not a third airport is necessary. I firmly believe that one is necessary. I think that cooperating with airports such as Rockford and other areas is extremely important in the continued resolution of this problem and I know that people in general have a tremendous concern over that.
By the way, I do like Rockford. It's a very nice community. I'm going to stay in Elmhurst, though.
Mr. MANZULLO. I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Manzullo. You know, Mr. Speaker, we talked about the budget difficulties. There are many of us who feel that in recent years, the Federal Government has gotten into many areas in which it really has no business, that we're trying to do many things that could be better done by the state and local governments.
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Some of us also feel that if we could get some of those functions back to the state and local governments, that it would then free up some funding for some of the truly national obligations and I think all of us feel that having a safe air traffic control system is clearly an important function of our national government and the other activities that the FAA carries out. So that's one of the goals of our legislation.
But I would like to thank you once again. I know all of these people on the panel with me would say that we know that you deal with issues that are just as tough and sometimes tougher than we deal with in Washington. We appreciate very much your public service and your commitment to the people of Illinois and thank you very much for being here this morning.
Mr. DANIELS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. The next panel will consist of Mr. Monte Belger, who is the Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services of the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington. He will be accompanied by Mr. Gary Duffy, who is the Manager of the Air Route Traffic Control Center, where we are today, and Mr. Denis Burke, who is also a Manager of the Air Route Traffic Control Center of the FAA.
Also on this panel will be Dr. Bernard S. Loeb, who is the Director of the Office of Aviation Safety of the National Transportation Safety Board, and he will be accompanied by Mr. Robert Benzon, who is the Senior Air Safety Investigator of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Gentlemen, it's a privilege for us to have all of you appear with us today and, Mr. Belger, we'll let you proceed with your testimony, please.
TESTIMONY OF MONTE BELGER, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, ACCOMPANIED BY GARY DUFFY, MANAGER, AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER, CHICAGO SYSTEM MAINTENANCE OFFICE, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, AND DENIS BURKE, MANAGER, AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION; AND DR. BERNARD S. LOEB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF AVIATION SAFETY, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD, ACCOMPANIED BY ROBERT BENZON, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD
Mr. BELGER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a good opportunity for us to talk about the strong, aggressive actions that we are already taking to address these problems of computer outages and power failures, and I would welcome the opportunity to do that today. With your approval, I'll submit a statement for the record and just briefly go over some thoughts.
I think it is very important that you hear directly from Mr. Burke, who is the Air Traffic Manager of this facility, and Mr. Duffy, who has the responsibility for the maintenance of this facility, and we'll obviously make sure that happens.
We are taking very strong actions today. We have started actions weeks ago. Before I get into the specifics, I think it's very important that we put this problem into perspective. As the Secretary said last Thursday in his press conference, we operate in the FAA over 30,000 pieces of equipment and systems that are operational 24 hours a day throughout the United States. The fact is that the availability rate of those 30,000 pieces of equipment has been improving and is today improving.
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One of the charts on the wall, this one to the left, shows the aggregate operational availability of those 30,000 pieces of equipment. Now, that's a testament to two things; one, the great work that our engineers and technicians are doing in maintaining the systems, and, second, it is a fact that we are today installing more new systems and more new pieces of hardwareprobably more than at any time in the history of the FAA.
If you look at the number of radar systems that are being installedground radars, long-range radars, terminal radars, new communications systems, new power conditioning systemswe are today, every month, installing dozens of new systems throughout the country.
When we started facing the increase in computer problems, and those are really the problems that we have seen here at the Chicago Center, fundamentally, as was said earlier, problems with the old IBM 9020E computer, we asked ourselves two questions; first, are we doing everything we can to ensure that the design, the development and the installation of the replacement systems is coming as quickly as humanly possible, and, second, in the interim, are we doing everything we can to ensure that the system is operating safely and efficiently today.
I'd like to very, very briefly talk about what we're doing in the second area first. To answer that second question, we sent teams of FAA experts to each of the 21 air traffic control centers. We met with over 500 controllers and maintenance technicians to talk specifically about backup procedures, contingency plans, and ideas from them as to things we ought to be doing not only to mitigate the impact of outages, but to prevent future outages.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have also put together a team of non-FAA experts to review our power designs, to review our power system philosophies. These are people from the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and five private corporations who have extensive experience in managing and operating very sophisticated facilities.
We've also developed and distributed a couple of video training programs for air traffic controllers to use to better familiarize them with the procedures and the capabilities of the backup systems. We are developing a computer-based simulation program to help our air traffic controllers be even more familiar with the backup systems that they might have to use.
One of the things we learned from the visits is we have a very limited capability to provide realtime, real world training on the backup systems.
Let me close briefly. Hiringwe are today in the process of hiring about 20 additional controllers into this facility, as we committed to do. The bid process is still open. And we will add up to 50 additional controllers into this facility.
No matter what indicator you want to look at, and I'll be specific to Chicago, the folks in our Great Lakes Region yesterday gave me some information that operational errors are down compared to last year, reports of near midair collisions are down compared to last yearthese are reports filed by pilotsdelays are down in the Chicago area. The indicators are all positive.
Now, that's not to minimize the concern we have with these outages. They are serious. We take them all seriously. We review everyone. I would like to, as best I can, with my limited oratory skills, be as specific as I can that we are doing everything that we think is humanly possible in the short-term, in the mid-term and the long-term.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Belger. We'll go next to Dr. Loeb.
Dr. LOEB. Thank you. Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I'm pleased to be here today to discuss the Board's efforts related to the computer equipment problems and power outages that have been occurring in the Nation's air route traffic control centers. Mr. Robert Benzon, who is with me, is a senior air safety investigator and project manager of the Safety Board's current special investigation into these problems.
The Safety Board began its investigation of the air route traffic control center equipment failures following a number of incidents that occurred this year, the first of which occurred in the Chicago Center May 17, 1995, and was followed by incidents at New York, Washington, Miami, Seattle, and, again, recently here in Chicago.
The Safety Board's team has visited four air route traffic control centers, having the oldest controller display computer systems, where they interviewed facility managers, controllers and airway facilities technicians. The team has also been to Lorale Corporation and they visited a smaller terminal radar control facility, the High Desert TRACON in California.
Although the Board's investigation is not yet complete, the team has gained some insight that we can share with you. While the overall system reliability is still excellent, according to the FAA, the equipment is fully operational about 99.4 percent of the time. Each ATC equipment anomaly that results in reversion to a backup mode of operation or in traffic delays is a cause for concern.
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Some of the problems that have occurred at the Chicago Center do involve aging equipment; that is, the display channel complex, or DCC, which was designed and built by IBM nearly 30 years ago. This equipment, the 9020E computer, accepts radar target data from the host computer and processes it for display on the controller's screen. When the 9020E goes off-line, the system reverts to a backup operating mode, using direct access radar channel, or DARC, in conjunction with the host computer.
Under DARC host, the controllers still retain many of the features of a normal operating system. However, they do lose such features as conflict alert and minimum safe altitude warning systems. More serious is that in some failure modes, the 9020E can create a situation in which the host computer will go off-line. This has happened at least two times in Chicago this year. When this occurred, the facility reverted to the lowest level of redundancy using DARC alone.
Under DARC standalone, the controllers lose many important features, such as automatic target identification, automatic handoff to and from adjacent sectors, and backup automatic flight plan process.
The biggest concern regarding the 9020E computer, however, is the ability to maintain this aging equipment. There are too few FAA personnel trained to repair equipment that is no longer manufactured or supported by IBM and there is a lack of spare parts. Far more serious than even this is the loss of all electrical power at an ATC facility, an event most feared by those to whom we spoke. When this occurs and backup power systems do not go on-line, the controllers cannot see airplanes on radar and cannot talk to the airplane crew. Mid-air collision avoidance becomes the sole responsibility of the airborne flight crews.
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To protect against a total power failure, all of the ATC facilities have layers of redundancy. Nonetheless, there have been occurrences recently at Miami and Oakland Centers in which the backup power could not be immediately established. In Miami, a lightning strike caused a complete power outage, and, in Oakland, unfamiliarity with procedures associated with a newly designednewly installed equipment design prevented an immediate switchover to backup power. Fortunately, such failures have been infrequent and when they occurred, pilots in adjacent air traffic control facilities have maintained traffic separation.
The FAA has two major ongoing programs to alleviate current air traffic control equipment problems. Within 18 months to 2 years, the display channel complex rehost computer system will replace the IBM 9020E in the five air route traffic control centersChicago, Dallas, Washington, Cleveland, New York. Chicago is to get the DCCR in October of '97. This system should provide relief from the 9020E problems until the DSR arrives.
The DSR, when it arrives, will indeed provide controllers with many new features that they do not now have. Interestingly, however, many of the controller complaints were not about either of these issues, but about communications problems relating to noisy phone lines and stepped on communications.
Mr. Chairman, in summary, we have found that despite the high reliability of ATC equipment and the multiple levels of redundancy, there are unique failures modes that continue to occur, resulting in system degradation to a level that can have adverse safety implications. Although the Board has yet to complete its study, we do have some suggestions that the FAA might want to consider. That is, they may want to study the adequacy of equipment and procedures used to revert to backup power systems and the adequacy of protection from lightning strikes and associated electrical surges.
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They want to place high priority on and continue to monitor very closely the progress of the DCCR and the DSR programs to assure that they remain on schedule. We believe that additional training for controllers in reverting to and operating in DARC standalone needs to be done. There is probably the possibility of rotating assignments at night that may need to be considered.
FAA needs to hire and train personnel to maintain an adequate staff of airway facilities, technicians qualified to repair old equipment, as well as newer equipment or planned to be installed.
Mr. Chairman, that completes my statement and we're happy to take questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Dr. Loeb, thank you very much. Gentlemen, before we begin the questions, Mr. Duffy, Mr. Belger asked that we hear from you and Mr. Burke. I know you don't have a formal statement, but do you want to tell us briefly about the operation in this facility that we're in and some of the problems and difficulties that you've had?
Mr. DUFFY. Well, certainly we're as frustrated as everyone else about the 30-year-old computer that we have to maintain. One of my greatest concerns, of course, is keeping that system running for the next year-and-a-half until the DCCR arrives.
I share the same concerns that everyone else shares, Mr. Chairman. I believe that the steps that the Committee is taking in terms of the legislation to enact some of the reforms will certainly provide a long-term solution to help ensure that this problem never manifests itself again.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Mr. Burke.
Mr. BURKE. Mr. Chairman, thank you for providing this opportunity for us to talk. Raising the awareness level of what's happening in the system, particularly in a center this size, it's very important to us that you all in Congress are aware of the job that's done day in and day out by the controllers and technicians.
One issue on the hiring. We are really pleased with the effort that's being made to bring new air traffic controllers on board. We do have an issue in Chicago.The facility is very busy and very complex, and thus it's hard to attract people. Congressman Oberstar, your support is appreciated in incentives to get people to come here. It is something that we really appreciate in the field, so that Mr. Belger can work with you all in getting people here.
The second issue is the training issue on DARC. I want to assure the Committee that we recognize those same pitfalls in training in that as well as our controllers were trained, we were more or less a victim of our own success. When we had no outages, they were not exposed to using a backup mode. So we found that training to be very perishable. We have worked closely with NATCA out here in the facility. We have already put in an aggressive training program. We are selecting committees in each area of operation to become cadre instructors, to maintain a high level awareness of how to work the backup systems.
This is along with the national effort that the FAA has made. We already have a video in the facility that everybody will have viewed by November 1st, which outlines the operation of DARC, standalone of DARC with FDP, which is what the controllers rely on when we have a failure. So we feel that we're aggressively pursuing that and we're doing everything we can to keep the system safe. It is safe. That needs to be stressed, also.
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So thank you again for allowing us to speak up.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Mr. Belger, let me ask you this. My father told me many years ago that everything looks easy from a distance, and the longer I live, the more truth I see in that. You know, Speaker Daniels called for immediate action and I'm sure there are many, many people who hear about this situation or read about it and they hear about these shortages of air traffic controllers here.
And they wonder or they ask themselves the question why does not the FAA just immediately move some of its more experienced air traffic controllers from some of the lesser used facilities and move them into the higher traffic areas where the problems are, such as here in Aurora.
Mr. BELGER. There are a couple of reasons, sir, why that is not as easy as it might appear. First, as Mr. Burke said, it is not easy to attract people to come to this facility who are already qualified and checked out in other air traffic control centers. If one can live in an area and work half the traffic, but be paid the same salary, it is very difficult for them to want to choose to come here.
We have not in the past, for a variety of different reasons, involuntarily reassigned a lot of people. That is an option. I do not believe that is the best option. The reason that we are so anxious to get some reform to allow us to quickly put in place some type of incentive pay or relocation bonuses or a pay scale that's based on operational complexity is why we have been so vocal in the last couple of years in asking for some reform to give us that flexibility.
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I believe the Administrator wants the flexibility that private industry has to pay people appropriately for the job that they do and it is clear that the folks in this facility, the busiest air traffic control facility in the world, probably are much busier than some in other facilities who are making the same salary. That's something we really need to address and we need to do that jointly with the unions and we need to do it jointly with the Congress.
Quite frankly, it is terribly, terribly difficult to do that within the system that we have today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Of the 99.4 percent operational availability, Mr. Duffy, how does this facility compare to that? Are the statistics similar for this facility?
Mr. DUFFY. I believe before 1995, we were actually above that national average. I would hesitate to say that after this year's experience with the 9020.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask one last thing. Just a few days ago, I tore a little thing out from a page of the Wall Street Journal and it said ''Miscommunications plague pilots and air traffic controllers,'' and it has a little story. And it says ''Of more than 6,000 unsafe flight incidents tracked by a special NASA safety branch, 529 were caused by ambiguous phrasing by aviation workers. Coming over radio equipment, certain words like left and west sound alike.''
Is there a communication problem based on the wording or based on an overcrowded communications system and have you done some work with the FCC concerning that?
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Mr. BELGER. Let me address that, if I could, in a general way and then I'll ask Mr. Burke to be more specific. That is a problem. It is an issue. We look at every operational error, every near mid-air collision report that pilots might file, every incident that comes to our attention or through this reporting system that we have.
Miscommunication is a big factor in many incidents and there are a variety of different reasons for that. Language interpretation problems, congestion on the frequencies. But that's a manageable problem, I believe, and the way that we have tried to address that is primarily through training with pilots. Our flight standards folks have a very aggressive program doing that right now.
But let me ask Mr. Burke, from a more local context, to answer.
Mr. BURKE. Certainly the volume and complexity of the Chicago metro area lend to those type of miscommunications. One of the issues we pursued very strongly from the field level through FAA, and we're stilling working it today, is the fact that in a miscommunication where a controller does not hear a pilot either read back an incorrect altitude clearance statement, the controller is always responsible for ensuring that that is correctalways. That is one of our highest quality assurance efforts is to make sure they hear the read-back.
Commercial pilots, general aviation pilots, on the other hand, are not required by their regulations or by FARs to read back an entire clearance and ensure that they have received it clearly. So we've been pursuing that very strongly and we think that that higher level of awareness, which we work with the Chicago area commercial airlines to constantly push on their pilots that when you get in Chicago, you listen up.
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We're going to continue to pursue that. We think more of the burdening needs to be on the pilot, also, to assist the controller, particularly in busy areas like Chicago, in making sure those read-backs are read back correctly, transmissions are heard correctly and followed correctly.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. My time is up and we'll go now to Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Your point about communication, if I might just pick up on that, is very much on target. This Subcommittee, with Mr. Clinger as ranking, held a hearing, in the aftermath of the terrible Avianca crash on Long Island, into the problems of communication, where English is supposed to be the international language of aviation, but not everybody speaks it the same.
We uncovered many of these problems, as the panel here has discussed, but the answers to those problems are, of course, more training in English for pilots, more insistence by controllers on read-backs. But controllers don't have time to get those read-backs if they're overloaded in their system and the voice switching and control system, which is installed at this center, but is not operational yet, and DATALINK, which is still a year or 2 away.
If you install DATALINK, get VSCS in all centers and towers and insist that all airlines have dispatch operations so that flight dispatchers can watch over and where they're notwhere the pilot is not communicating with the controllers, do so directly by radio or DATALINK from the airline's own center.
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One of the biggest problems we have in this interim period between installation of the DSR and where we are today is how to get these five ancient computers replaced. I won't delay or dwell on the issue, but I would like you to submit for the record an explanation of why, back in the ancient past, FAA decided to put Raytheon equipment at 15 other centers and leave the 9020E at these five busiest centers. It's an interesting, but, at this point, academic question.
Second, I would like to ask, Monte, if you would report to the Subcommittee, give us a periodic report on the DCCR, as you do with the air traffic system's development status report, which we receive monthly. I think that would give a lot of people confidence that FAA is staying on track with the DCCR interim replacement technology, that you're staying on track and meeting the goals and doing what you said you would do.
Mr. BELGER. Yes, sir. We'll do that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Third, the training to handle outages. As I walked around the floor last night, first of all, I just deplore the physical facility here. There is no other center in America that has 10-foot or 9-foot ceilings. They're all 15 or 20-foot ceilings. I know there's an asbestos problem. I know that every effort has been made to protect the controllers from asbestos by putting the rubber interim ceiling and lowering the ceiling, but it creates an intolerable noise situation.
Maybe, I don't know, this Committee has to go out and raise some money, have a bake sale or something, to build a new facility here. But these are terrible conditions.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. And I really don't have any spare 9020Es, but one of the things I heard on the floor was when there was an outage, the controllers say who works the midnight shift, when the system is taken down deliberately to do the maintenance and controllers have experience going into DARC and they know how to respond.
Can't you find some way to do training? I know you've set that up as an objective, but can you accelerate that?
Mr. BELGER. Yes, sir, I can. One of the things we learned in the visits to the 21 centers is that some centers, quite frankly, do a much better job of training locally than do others. In some centers, there is a more disciplined rotation of air traffic controllers through the midnight shift, which is the time where we routinely do the preventive maintenance and take the primary system down, because it's not busy, and, therefore, they get some hands-on experience working with the backup.
So we're looking at all of those possibilities. We're developing the computer-based simulation capability as quickly as we can. I agree with the NTSB's three preliminary recommendations that they described a few moments ago and I think we're doing those things now.
Mr. OBERSTAR. The staffing is a matter of very great concern. We have held hearings in the past on staffing standards, both when I chaired the Aviation Subcommittee and the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. Prior to the strike, there was a staffing standard that provided a cushion against peak periods. You staffed to the peak, not to the valley.
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After the strike, FAA determinedand, FAA, I don't mean anyone sitting here because none of you were in positions of authority at the timebut that there were too many controllers and so you staffed to the day which represented an average, the 90th percentile day.
Mr. BELGER. That's correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Instead of staffing to the busiest day, 37th day of the year. What is your staffing standard now and on what do you base it? Second, in the past, en route centers have been based on an eight-shift operation, so that there was always sufficient overlap. And now, with strip pullers removed, with two people working controls, often only one person working controls, you don't have that same overlap.
What is your standard and how are you accommodating for the pressures?
Mr. BELGER. The standards are basically established, as you described them, based upon the 90th percentile day, the 90th busiest day in any given year. We are staffed today within a couple of percentage points of that staffing standard nationwide. Most outside FAA folks who have looked at the staffing standards have validated them. The General Accounting Office, in testimony a year or so ago, came to the conclusion that in the aggregate, we probably have enough air traffic controllers across the country today and I believe that today.
We do have a problem in that we have some facilities which are, in my opinion, over-staffed, some that are under-staffed. I believe this facility is under-staffed, and that's why we are adding more controllers here. We are working as closely as we can with the union to reach an agreement on under-staffed and over-staffed facilities, as we are obligated to do under the contractual arrangements we have now, and to develop with the union some incentive programs to ensure that we get the best, most qualified people to a facility like the Chicago Center.
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I am very, very anxious to do that. That is my top priority to get an agreement with the union to do that as quickly as we can. Mr. Burke has worked on that particular group and he's also been very, very involved, as you might suspect, in staffing standards over the years. So let me see if he can add some detail.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I think it's very important to pick upif I may have an additional moment, Mr. Chairmanto pick up on the aggregate versus the individual facility. Aggregate numbers may be fine, but individual facilities lag behind and there has been a running dispute between this Subcommittee and the FAA, going back to 1985, over the standards for the Chicago tower, TRACON and Center. We have always said, and GAO has backed us up, you don't have enough people here. Thank you for saying it.
Mr. BELGER. I believe it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Burke.
Mr. BURKE. And we do. We all agree. We're on the same page on the amount of additional controllers we need. The number 50 has been used. Fifty controllers would be excellent, bring them on board and train them, the issue being how long to train them. We're certainly working closely with the FAA and headquarters to provide an incentive to get a journeyman controller in an en route facility to want to come to Chicago and take on the challenge of working the most airplanes in the country.
What that's going to take, we don't know, but Monte has been extremely supportive of us and whatever support we can get from the Committee, we'll accept it, because we want to go out and get people that want to come to Chicago Center and those people can become valuable to us within 6 to 8 months with that type of experience.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Finally, I apologize for prevailing on the Committee's time, but I talked to controllers last night here, but I've talked to them all over the country who have said I came to this center, I came to New York Center, to Boston Center with an incentive pay commitment and now it's been cut and you broke a commitment to me.
What plans do you have to restore the incentive pay? Not you, but I mean what have you heardthis is a departmental decision. This is an OMB decision. It's also a decision that we in the Congress have to confront.
Mr. BELGER. It is a decision that would be made at that level, but I will be glad to tell you what my opinion is and what I think we ought to do.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Please do.
Mr. BELGER. The pay demonstration program, as you know, was a demonstration program with a finite period of time in which it was to run, and it served its purpose. I think it is clear that during that period, when people were paid more to work in the four geographic locations, that recruitment improved, fewer people wanted to leave, people who came were better qualified and more experienced, and there was clearly an incentive to come here to work.
There is no doubt that it served that purpose. But it was also terribly expensive. It wasn't targeted to specific occupations. It was kind of broad in that it included occupations where there really wasn't a reason to have it, because it wasn't difficult to staff in some of those occupations. And I don't mean the air traffic controllers or the technicians. It was targeted to other occupations in the same geographic area.
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So it was very expensive. Clearly, one of the reasons that went into why we ended the demonstration earlier than the originally designed period was because we didn't have the money to pay for it. We did not have the money to continue to pay for that demonstration program. That is why it was terminated.
But we should have. The FAA, running an air traffic control system which is by far the busiest and most complex in the world by a factor of two, at least, ought to have the flexibility, as any private company or industry does, to offer incentives to people in various locations who you know do much more work and are much busier in a much more complex environment than others. We ought to be able to offer them more money. We need the flexibility to do that.
I want to do that. I want to work with the union. I want to work with the Congress. I know the Administrator wants to. I know he wants that flexibility. But, again, I must tell you that it is terribly difficult to do within the system we have today.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. Mr. Weller.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One of the greatest frustrations for those of us who represent the flying public here in the Chicago area, of course, home to the world's busiest airport and the Aurora Center, is the repeated breakdowns of the computer system.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On my first visit earlier this year to the Aurora Center, when I visited the basement and discovered the computers were still being programmed with computer punch cards, which was leading edge technology in the '60s when I was in grade school, came as a shock to me, as I think it is to the flying public. I really want to commend, your technicians and your controllers and your staff here because, frankly, they've been working essentially with one arm tied behind their back, working with outdated, antiquated equipment that's obviously breaking down. It works, but it breaks down.
It's been suggested by many that in order to accommodate the amount of time it's going to take to put in place the interim computers, we recognize the software is not ready yet, it's being tested, the prototype software is being tested in Atlantic City, but we're looking at 14, 16, 18 months before it will be ready and it's been suggested that we increase the staffing here up to the FAA standard level, an additional 84 controllers and also additional technicians.
Can you walk us through the timetable? You've responded by committing to bringing in 50 additional controllers. It's my understanding there's 20 to 30 that have committed to come here. I'd like to know, number one, how many of them are experienced that can begin serving as a controller today and then how many have to go through training and, with those who have made the commitment, how long before they'll all be in place? Recognizing that because the computer has broken down before, it can break down again even today while we're here.
If you could walk us through that timetable, either Mr. Belger or Mr. Burke.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BELGER. I think I can do that. We have 53 applications, I think, as of this point from air traffic controllers who would like to come to the Chicago Center. We did that through two bid processes, one within the Great Lakes Region and one nationwide for what we call our in- grade or down-grade reassignment, so that we could take advantage of some end-of-year money to move people.
We have selected, as of this point, about 20 or 21 of those 53. We're only going to select those that we have a high degree of confidence can check out and be trained at this facility. We're not going to select those that we don't have confidence in, and we're not going to select those who have had perhaps tried here previously and weren't successful.
I believe, at this point, the number is six of those 20 that have center experience in other facilities, will come here. History has shown that those folks with that kind of experience can check out to the full performance level in less than a year, somewhere between 7 months and a year. It depends on the individual. But they'll go through a training curriculum as quickly as they individually can.
Mr. WELLER. So you're saying that even though we're looking at 16 months before the interim computer can be put in place, even with your experienced controllers, that we're looking at almost a year before they would be able to be operating as controllers here at Aurora.
Mr. BELGER. Let me add, and then I will ask Mr. Burke for specifics. They will be valuable and useful the day they walk in the door. They won't be up to the full performance level, which means they're checked out on every position that they might work, for somewhere between 7 months and a year. They'll be very valuable when they walk in the door.
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Mr. BURKE. I want to stress one issue that Mr. Scholl and I, with NATCA, have talked about. That is when you're already at the journeyman grade, making the highest salary rate at another en route facility, you come here, and the issue is no longer pay. The issue is to become qualified on two or three positions at the most to help support the operations, so that we can train additional people that are being brought in.
Of the other controllers that are being selected, they are at terminal radar facilities. They are not as used to complex traffic conditions here. We expect that their average checkout will be somewhere between 18 months, could go as long as 30 months, depending on talent level. Of course, the desire is there for them to progress quickly because they get promoted as they go. They're coming from a lower graded facility.
The experienced air route traffic controllers that we can attract from other centers are key in that they don't have to reach journeyman level immediately to be of great help to us because of their experience and background.
Mr. WELLER. On the technicians, as part of your action plan, you've indicated that you plan to hire an additional, I believe, 116 new technicians to train and hire. It's also my understanding that you do not plan to provide any of those additional technicians here at Aurora.
One of the concerns that's been brought to my attention in talking with staff here is that in previous times when the system has broke down here in the middle of the night, 2, 3, or 4 a.m., that there's no technician on duty at that time, even though this serves as the world's busiest airport and many believe that you should have someone on duty 24 hours a day.
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The General Accounting Office also noted, when they analyzed your action plan, according to the chart we have here, that while the other four major centers are all receiving additional technicians, Chicago does not, but also that your staffing levels, because even considering new hires, but also considering retirements, that you'll be down to two technicians on duty, which would prevent you from having 24-hour technicians on duty.
If we're looking over the next 16 to 18 months at the risk of a future breakdown of our existing system here, by reducing the number of technicians or providing additional technicians, how can you guarantee that we'll be able to keep the computer system operating?
Mr. BELGER. I'll let Mr. Duffy be more specific in just a second. But I decided a few days ago, after thoroughly looking at the GAO's report and after thoroughly talking to people in the centers like Mr. Duffy, that one thing we must do is to bring those DCC units in the five centers. The chart shows their staffing standards level so that we can provide 24-hour coverage on the 9020E computers in those five centers, and Mr. Duffy has a plan to do that.
We have, in the Chicago area, the flexibility to reassign some people from other facilities into this center because it's a priority. As you know, we're building a brand new TRACON in the Chicago area. Right now, we have engineers and technicians working both in that facility and in the existing TRACON at O'Hare. When they consolidate, when we get closer to the consolidation, we'll be able to transfer some folks over here.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My clear stated and the Administrator's clear stated objective is to, as soon as possible, get these DCC units in the five centers up to the staffing standards level so that we can provide 24-hour coverage.
Mr. WELLER. Just a quick follow-up. Do you have a target date on when you would have 24-hour coverage for maintenance and repairs?
Mr. DUFFY. Mr. Congressman, we're prepared to go to 24-hour coverage right now at Chicago Center in the DCC area.
Mr. WELLER. So as of today.
Mr. DUFFY. We're prepared to do that. I would prefer to leave that to the people in that unit to decide what coverage would be best for the maintenance of that computer. It wasn't management that put them on less than 24 hours. It was a decision that was made in that unit to have less than 24-hour coverage. We are prepared, however, and have sufficient people to return to 24-hour coverage, if that becomes a mandate.
We're very fortunate to have a young lady from Cleveland Center, who is currently at O'Hare, and who has agreed to come over here for the year-and-a-half that we're going to be waiting for the DCCR. She is 9020 trained and she's plans to help us out. So we'll have seven people here, even while we send one of the technicians to the school that's coming up next month.
Mr. WELLER. I know we'll have an opportunity to talk with technicians later. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Weller. Congressman Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Belger, in your testimony, and it's been referred to here several times, your intention to hire at least 116 new airway facilities technicians, as well as new controllers for Chicago, are they new? Are they replacing people who would leave during normal attrition or are these new additional folks?
Mr. BELGER. In the case of the airways facilities technicians and the 116, they are not necessarily new in termsthey're not additions to the workforce. They are hirings this year, some of which will replace people who have retired or gone on for other reasons. If you look at the trend for the area facilities workforce over the past 6 or 7 years, you will see a relatively steady decline in that workforce.
You'll also see, though, and this is a testament to the good work that they are doing, in the last year or so, because they are very aggressively realigning themselves and restructuring themselves and turning supervisory and administrative positions into front-line working positions, that we are seeing an increase in the front line hands-on technicians and engineers.
Mr. BORSKI. I guess a follow-up to that is how does it coincide with the efforts of the entire agency to continue to reduce staff?
Mr. BELGER. That is the problem that I face every day. Based upon our 1996 budget request to the Congress, we submitted a plan in which we would only hire 100 air traffic controllers in 1996. Now, this is in a workforce of over 17,000 people that we consider to be in the controller workforce, all of whom are not full-time controllers, some of whom are supervisors.
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But that's the predicament that we are in, quite frankly. Our '96 budget request, and the Secretary said last Thursday that it is absolutely imperative that we get full support for our '96 request, will not allow us to hire very many airways facilities engineers or technicians in 1996. That's just the fact.
If I could elaborate a little more.
Mr. BORSKI. Please do.
Mr. BELGER. If you look at the air traffic part of the FAA's operations budget, which is by far the biggest, 25,000 people out of the FAA's 48,000 workforce, 92 percent of that appropriation is virtually spent from day one. It's to pay salaries, benefits and personnel costs.
About 4 percent of that appropriation is for contracts and most of those contracts are for people, for bodies to do training and, in some cases, to do some maintenance. That only leaves in our air traffic workforce about 4 percent, which is somewhat discretionary. That's for travel, overtime, training, special projects, and special initiatives, an area where I want to help Mr. Burke.
There's just very little flexibility. And I don't mean to be whining. That's just a fact and that's the challenge that we work with every day to operate the system as efficiently as we do. On any given dayand if you take yesterday, for example, the 55 busiest airports in this country, there were about 100,000 takeoffs and landings and about 500 flights delayed. That's about 1 percent of all the flights yesterday were delayed, most of those in the Atlanta area because of very severe weather. It's a very efficient system even with all of these constraints we have.
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My approach to all of this is to think about how much more efficient it would be if we had the flexibility to approach some of these problems the way private industry does.
Mr. BORSKI. Let me ask another question, if I may, somewhat related to this topic. There are discussionsI'm sure that you've heard about the potential at least of changing the retirement system. What would happen if that system were adjusted, making it more attractive, let's assume, to the more senior, more experienced workforce that you'd have?
Mr. BELGER. To me, sir, that is one of the biggest potential problems that we face in the future. Secretary Peña said last Thursday in his press conference three things that I'd just like to cover in direct response to your question.
Number one, the Secretary said very clearly that he and the Administrator and the Administration strongly support maintaining the 5 percent premium pay that our air traffic controllers and our airways facilities technicians and engineers get today. He also expressed his concern about potential changes in the retirement system which would have a negative impact on the retirement calculations for our technicians and engineers particularly and he expressed, and I agree, strong concerns about the potential for those folks leaving sooner than they would otherwise.
I think that is something that we must guard against. We can't afford to lose prematurely the very senior qualified technicians and engineers who are keeping these systems running for the next 2 years.
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The third point that the Secretary made was again, his strong request for full support of our funding request for 1996.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Borski. Mr. Ewing.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Belger, maybe I missed it, but I think we talked around it a little bit, but the fact that we're down in personnel here, is that totally budget-driven?
Mr. BELGER. The answer, sir, is yes and no. I'll deal specifically with air traffic since the answer varies depending on which workforce we're talking about. Let me explain, if I could. In the air traffic controller workforce, I believe that today, in the aggregate, we have enough air traffic controllers to do the work that needs to be done. All of the indicators and the performance measures really show that.
We do, though, have a real problem with some facilities being over-staffed and some being under. So I think that's not necessarily a budget problem, except to the extent that it takes money to move people.
In the airways facilities workforce, I think the situation is a little bit different. I do think that we have to be very cautious that in our desire to downsize, in our desire to realign our workforce to make it as productive as possible, we don't go too far. I'm really concerned about that in the airways facilities and we're looking at that very closely.
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Now, for the future, both the Administrator and I believe that we must start building a pipeline of new people in the air traffic controller workforce and in the technician workforce. It is clear, if you look down the road a few years, that we will start seeing more retirements in the air traffic controller workforce after the year 2001. Today, we don't have a pipeline and in 1997, at the earliest, I believe we have to start planning for that.
Mr. EWING. The airway facilities workers, are those the technicians that
Mr. BELGER. Yes, sir.
Mr. EWING.that take care of it.
Mr. BELGER. Yes, sir.
Mr. EWING. We got a little applause here when we talked about the facility. Are there any plans for a replacement facility here?
Mr. BELGER. Well, first of all, I agree. I mean, I think it's ridiculous that some of our folks are having to work 3040 year old facilities like this. But the straightforward answer to your question is no. We are doing patchwork improvements. We are making additions. If you go to the 21 centers in the country, you will see a variety of additions, add-ons and patchwork improvements that we have done. Now, that, quite frankly, is very much budget driven.
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Mr. EWING. How does this facility compare to others?
Mr. BELGER. I would say it's typical.
Mr. EWING. In the middle. Not worse.
Mr. BELGER. I've seen worse.
Mr. EWING. We've already spent way too much money trying to come up with a new system that isn't ready yet and that's another issue probably, but are we not thinking about putting a new system in an updated and current facility?
Mr. BELGER. I'm not sure if you were able to see this during your tour, but we have either completed or are in the process of adding new rooms for the new equipment at all our centers. So the control room floor that you were on won't be the floor that the new equipment goes into. In some cases its a brand new room and in some cases an addition. It will be a modern, state-of-the-art room with adequate lighting. And Gary, Mr. Duffy, can be more specific, but you might, if you ever have the opportunity, go up to a facility we have in Rockville. It's called our demonstration facility, where we actually have a mockup of one-half of the Seattle Center floor. So you can visually see what the control room of the future will look like.
Mr. EWING. Go ahead, Mr. Duffy.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUFFY. We have a similar room here at the maintenance control center, but you probably didn't realize that you were standing on. In the east portion there was a big empty room. That's where the advanced automation system was intended to be placed.
Mr. EWING. Well, I'm glad to hear that. One final question, Mr. Belger. You mentioned, I think, two or three times about the FAA organizational handicap. So you do support and believe that it's necessary to modernize the structure of the FAA so that it can deal with these problems.
Mr. BELGER. I think what I was referring to were constraints within the system that we work. The procurement system, the personnel system and the financial system.
Mr. EWING. That's part of the organizational system.
Mr. BELGER. And clearly, sir, we have been talking for 2 years about the need for some flexibility and reform in all three of those areas, fundamentally in the financial area.
Mr. EWING. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Ewing. Mr. Hutchison.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Belger, when I look at the operational availability and I see the 99.4 percent and then I hear about the eight outages, I guess my question is have we seen a significant increase in equipment outages or not, because it seems conflicting to me.
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Mr. BELGER. Thank you and I'm glad to clarify that. We have seen an increase in some systems and in some pieces of equipment. Clearly, we've seen an increase in this DCC equipment, the old 9020E computer. Clearly, we have seen an increase in outages and clearly we have seen it takes us longer to repair when we do have those outages.
That's why well over a year ago the Administrator made the decision to restart this development program for an interim replacement and that's why he made the decision a couple months ago to go ahead with a development contract and with an installation contract to replace these old computers.
Mr. HUTCHISON. So it is with that one particularit is with the computer that we've seen increased outages, not in the overall system.
Mr. BELGER. That is correct. Now, there are other systems, I'll be very honest with you, where we have seen, I believe, an increase in outages and one is a new radar. It's called the ASR9. We've had, quite frankly, more problems than I would like with that radar, and some of those are infant type of problems, infant installation type of problems. But we track every system and every piece of equipment.
There are well over 100 systems or pieces of equipment in this center which Mr. Duffy130in which he tracks every day their performance.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Now, you, I think, said that when it came to air traffic controllers, there wasn't a problem in the number of personnel. It was a matter of the allocation of the resources to get them at the right place and you said that the system makes it very difficult to move them.
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My immediate reaction when you said that there were enough was a private company would simply move them. They put their peoplethey work for them, they put them where they need them. Is the greatest impediment to your ability to do that the union contractual agreements or where do you have such a problem in getting them where they need to be?
Mr. BELGER. Well, I think that's one of the factors, but I believe the overriding concern is that we need to work on a way to put in place incentives to encourage people to go to those locations. I don't believe we will be successful in the long run with a philosophy that says we just arbitrarily or involuntarily move a lot of people. In the long run, I don't believe we would be successful in doing that.
I would prefer to have a system that encourages people to come to Chicago Center or to New York Center.
Mr. HUTCHISON. I know that sounds very nice, but I also know that private industry moves people all over the country if they need to to meet their needs. I know the work demand is greater here and that it's not going to be the most desirable without incentives, but
Mr. BELGER. That is an option and I can assure you it's on my agenda and I am very, very anxious, I will say again, for our work group, our FAA group and the union group, to come to a conclusion. But that is an option.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Now, you also spoke of the need to build a pipeline. Now, it takes about 2 to 3 years for a maintenance technician to become fully certified on the DCC computer. Is that correct?
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Mr. BELGER. That's right.
Mr. HUTCHISON. And those are the ones being used now. If you're hiring increased maintenance technicians now and you're taking 2 to 3 years to get them certified, all of those computers are going to be replaced, hopefully, before these technicians are even certified.
Now, I guess the first thing is does that really help solve the problem and, number two, are they going to have to be entirely retrained on the new computers?
Mr. BELGER. Let me answer in general and then Mr. Duffy can be more specific. We have a lot of engineers and technicians who are partially trained. They haven't gone through the full training and they're not certified. The new training program that we are starting actually next week in Oklahoma City will allow us to have at least a dozen, at least a dozen fully trained and certified technicians on these five computers next June, fully a year before they'll be replaced. So I think that's a worthwhile investment, in my view.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Hutchison. Mr. LaHood.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Duffy, I'm very naive about this, so I'm going to ask probably a dumb question. Can you tell us what happens when the system goes down? What do the controllers tell the pilots? What happens? And is it trueI've heard the story that there's only two or three people that are capable of coming in and figuring out what's wrong with the system and then able to fix it.
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So can you kind of sketch out for us what exactly happens when the system goes down and what people do?
Mr. DUFFY. Let me answer the second part of your question and then I'd prefer to have Denis answer the first part. When the system goes down, we immediately take action.
First of all, there's redundant elements within the system and if a redundant element fails, another one
Mr. LAHOOD. I doubt if 80 percent of the people in this room, except for these controllers, know what a redundant element is. I certainly do not.
Mr. DUFFY. All right. Let me explain that. The 9020E system consists of compute elements, storage elements, input/output control elements, and display elements. For example, we have two input/output control elements. We need one of them to operate. So we have one on the air and one is a hot standby. We have three compute elements. We have two of them on the air and we like to have one of them as a hot standby, and so forth with the storage elements and the display elements.
When one of those elements fails or has a problem, the hot standby would automatically come on-line or the people at our maintenance control center would put it on-line and we would immediately start some sort of a restoration activity on the failed redundant element.
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If, while we were in that condition, another element of the same type were to go down, and that's happened five or six times here in the last year, we would end up going to our DARC host standby system. And how that's accomplished I would rather have Denis comment on from an air traffic standpoint.
Mr. BURKE. Congressman LaHood, the controllers are looking at a plan view display, a radar screen. The first indication they have of a problem is a banner will come across in alphanumeric stating we're not updating time and information and data. They'll normally wait several seconds, because there are outages that would cause this display to show up and they're hoping that the computer is going to come right back.
When it does not, they into the DARC FDP or host mode, and FDP, flight data processing. You have a radar display, which gives you the aircraft call sign, the altitude and the air speed. It also, of course, identifies its location. And the flight data processing allows them to get information on where the pilot is going, and what the flight plan route is. They will push up the DARC FDP mode. They will still see that same alphanumeric generated information. They'll have a call sign, altitude, air speed.
They will still be able to get generated flight plans, which allow them to look where the airplanes are going to go. They do begin to lose certain enhancements to the system, very important ones. In DARC FDP, they no longer have conflict alert, a computer projection of possible conflicts between two aircraft. Another enhancement that is lost is the JBALL ring, a 5-mile ring you can place around an aircraft that's generated by the computer. Five miles is the separation standard they must use. These two are among several enhancements that are affected.
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When you go to DARC standalone, no flight data processing whatsoever, it becomes an entirely manual operation from the point of view of flight plan information. They still have the data tag that shows the aircraft call sign, altitude and air speed, which are three of the key elements to provide separation for air traffic control.
But in a manual mode, we would start out at somewhere between a 15 to 25 percent operation from what we run today. Until that system stabilizes and the controllers get used to working that manual operation, we basically sterilize the airspace. So if we go to DARC standalone, the controller's primary focus is to work the traffic they've got in front of them. Our primary focus in surrounding them with the traffic management unit people, supervisors and managers is to clear out that airspace until we determine the extent of the problem. Once that's been accomplished, we find out what mode we're in and then we bring the system back up according to the level of traffic that we can work, depending on what we have for equipment.
This has happened several times. We've asked to train in a live environment, but not quite as often as we've done in the Chicago area. Our controllers know what to expect and we really put an emphasis on the training program now to make sure that awareness stays high over the next 2 years because we want to be ready. We want people to think be ready.
Mr. LAHOOD. Could I ask another question?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes.
Mr. LAHOOD. Is it true that there are just a very few people that you can call to figure out how to fix what's happened when the system goes down?
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Mr. DUFFY. Actually, we have within this facility 15 trained and certified people on the 9020E. All of them, however, do not work in that unit. Within that unit there are six technicians. Four of them have been trained and certified, one is partially trained, and the other one is being sent to school in October.
In addition, the supervisor of that unit is a fully certified and trained technician and a systems specialist who works in that unit is probably one of the best 9020 technicians in the country. That's within the unit. Outside the unit, there are nine other folks who work at our maintenance control center whose current experience probably needs some sharpening up, but have had the training and certification on the 9020.
Mr. LAHOOD. So that there's about five people then.
Mr. DUFFY. In the facility?
Mr. LAHOOD. Yes.
Mr. DUFFY. There are actually six people, counting the supervisor and systems specialist, who are fully trained, and are able to troubleshoot and repair the system.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Belger, when the Washington National Airport construction is complete and there's a new facility there, what kind of equipment will be in place to direct airplanes?
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Mr. BELGER. The primary automation system will be an ARCH terminal system, very similar to what they have in the tower today. It will have some improvements. It will be a further refinement of the system that's there today. An ARCH3E is what we basically call it. It will be smaller. It will be more microprocessor driven. It will not be the state-of-the-art system for which we have a development program to purchase.
Mr. LAHOOD. And when will that be put in?
Mr. BELGER. The request for proposals for that program, which is an automation program for all of our terminals, should be on the street in the next several months. The schedule is in that summary report that Mr. Oberstar has and I believe these scheduled deliveries would be in the late '97'98 timeframe.
Mr. LAHOOD. Just one more question.
Mr. BELGER. I'm sorry. 1998, to be precise.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Burke, when the public is alerted to the fact that the Aurora Center has gone down, how scared should they be? How worried should they be about people that they know are flying into O'Hare or out of O'Hare or they're coming to the Chicago land area, either by private plane or commercial plane or whatever? Should they immediately rush out to a church and start praying a rosary or should theyI'm serious.
We hear these things and they get portrayed as the idea that the screen went black and nobody has any idea how many airplanes are up there, that the pilots are not being directed one way or another, and that's a little different than what you just explained to us here. Obviously, there's a problem, but I have a little different impression of what really takes place now that you've explained it.
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But how worried should people be about flying around when the system goes down for an hour-and-a-half or two hours?
Mr. BURKE. Worry and fear shouldn't play in. This is a safe system. We operate a safe system. We've made it very clear that the technicians have to certify it before a controller can sit down. A controller has to be confident that he can work the system before he controls or she controls airplanes.
If it was not safe, we would not open up in the morning at Chicago Center. Mr. Belger would be having a press conference explaining to everyone how traffic would be routed around this facility if it was not safe. It is safe. Use of the backup systems is often interpreted as is a portent to disaster. A primary system failure is something that we have planned for and have a backup system in place to ensure the safety of the public. If it was not safe, and I am committed to this, Mark Scholl, with NATCA's committee, we wouldn't open this facility for business tomorrow morning if it was not safe.
Mr. BELGER. I'm sorry, sir.
Mr. LAHOOD. Sure.
Mr. BELGER. Because this is a point that's very confusing, I've found.
Mr. LAHOOD. I agree.
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Mr. BELGER. With the media and with the public. And one thing that the media and the public should know is that if you are on an aircraft about to land at O'Hare or Midway or Palmaukee, you're not under the control of this facility. You will be under the control of the radar approach control facility at O'Hare, for example, if you're going into O'Hare, or the tower at O'Hare.
This facility has responsibility, along with 19 other centers in the United States, for the en route separation responsibilities. When you get within a certain distance, and it varies, but generally 35 to 40 miles of an airport, you're turned over to that radar approach control facility and that's the facility I referred to that's being built the Chicago area.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. LaHood. Very good questions. Mr. Hastert.
Mr. HASTERT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to back up here and just talk about Secretary Peña's announcement that you're going to have 50 new controllers. Now, we talked about that a little bit prior, but out of that 50 new controllers you have, that's over a period of how long a time?
Mr. BELGER. I want to identify them and get them here as quickly and as orderly as Mr. Burke tells me he can accommodate them and train them. Now, that process is still underway.
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Mr. HASTERT. Didn't you say you have about 20?
Mr. BELGER. We have approximately 20 to whom we have made commitments to so far to come here.
Mr. HASTERT. How many of them are on station here?
Mr. BELGER. None of them yet. Obviously, they have to make their personal arrangements and they'll start showing up here in October.
Mr. HASTERT. Well, out of that 20 that you have commitments to come, how many are ready to sit down and take over?
Mr. BELGER. None.
Mr. BURKE. None. None can sit down and begin to work traffic. Every controller must face retraining in every new facility they go to, because nothing is ever the same.
Mr. HASTERT. Well, how many are ready to sit down and be retrained? Are they at that stage?
Mr. BURKE. We have made offers have people accepting. We've no firm date for them to arrive in the Chicago area until they can workout their family issues and moving schedules. So, no, we don't have anybody on board and nobody's plugged in and nobody's ready to work.
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Mr. HASTERT. But let me back up one more step. I mean, are they at a pointof all 20 that you've contracted with out of the 50 potential that you can contract or bring in here, are all 20 at the stage of training that they can sit down and be trained or this area?
Mr. BELGER. At this point, six of the 20 have experience in other centers and, as Mr. Burke said, they're the folks who can sit down quickly and history has shown that they could be checked out in full performance level in perhaps 7 months. The others, the 14 or so that we've committed to, do not have experience working in a center. It will take them longer.
Mr. HASTERT. So they will be trained on-spot, in a sense, right? You bring them along, they'll be helpers, they'll pull cards, do things like that. Is that right?
Mr. BURKE. And they'll have to take extensive classroom, too, to learn the area. It's a much larger area than a terminal controller. But they are journeymen where they come from, so they are experienced controllers, just not at the level and complexity of Chicago.
Mr. HASTERT. Now, you talk about the new facility being built and it's going to be built in Elgin, also part of this district, but is that the TRACON, as you call that, TRACON? When that is up and running, how soon is that going to happen? November a year from now? When?
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Mr. BELGER. It should be operational October of next year, 1996.
Mr. HASTERT. A year from now. What kind of equipment will that have in it?
Mr. BELGER. It will have the ARCH3E computer system, as I described before. The best available computer system that we have today.
Mr. HASTERT. And that's the same equipment that we're trying to get in here, is that correct?
Mr. BELGER. No, sir. Completely different. And this is another point that's very confusing, if you'll allow me to expand a little bit. The computer system in the 20 centers in the continental United States is unlike anything in the world. There is no country in the world that has a software program to handle hundreds of thousands of aircraft every day in an integrated way that talks to over 500 facilities on a realtime basis.
To compare this to the Windows '95 is justI mean, that's apples and oranges. We're talking about realtime software programming capability.
Now, the programs in the TRACONs, quite frankly, are smaller in scope because that's a much smaller area.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HASTERT. Well, that's the handoff here, right?
Mr. BELGER. Yes, sir, that's correct. It's a different computer system completely. It's a different design, a different set of requirements and a completely different developmental approach to those two types of computer systems.
Mr. HASTERT. Then you said one of the systems that happened to go down is the radar system. Is that the Doppler radar system?
Mr. BELGER. No, sir. No, sir. The reference I was making to were the media reports about what's called the ASR9. It's a terminal short-range radar that primarily provides coverage for the TRACON. It's a new state-of-the-art, best radar that's available in the world today. But we're, quite frankly, having some infant mortality types of problems.
Mr. HASTERT. Developmental stages.
Mr. BELGER. Right.
Mr. HASTERT. Mr. Chairman, indulgence for one last question. Finally, when it's reported that the system goes down here in Aurora, my understanding is a couple of these systems have been at night when you actually shut these systems down voluntarily to test them or to work on them and then you don't get them back up in the same period of time that you hope to.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As that happens, am I incorrect or correct in saying that there is a backup system that's going on and, in fact, there's a backup system to that? Is that correct?
Mr. BURKE. That is correct. In fact, we made several conscious decisions to stay on the backup and run the traffic. Somebody mentioned that day, on a Tuesday, we ran 9,500 operations on the DARC FDP backup system.
Mr. Duffy and I took a look at the situations. He judged it from a technician's viewpoint and standpoint and said without the redundancy he spoke of, ''I don't want to bring this system up.'' We agreed, and we ran the backup. The controllers came in and started the day on the backup, ended the day on the backup, which is a much calmer situation than losing it while you're working traffic on the primary system. And you'll hear controllers refer to that as being uncomfortable. It is in this situation.
Mr. HASTERT. In order to do that, you have to have the best controllers possible.
Mr. BURKE. We have got the best controllers in the world. There's no doubt about it.
Mr. HASTERT. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Hastert. Mr. Manzullo.
Mr. MANZULLO. Thank you very much. Have there been any outages at the tower at O'Hare?
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Mr. BELGER. I'm not aware of any.
Mr. MANZULLO. All right.
Mr. BELGER. I don't recall any.
Mr. MANZULLO. That's good to know, because as Congressman LaHood said, we're not technicians. We see the broader pictures. So the outages of which we hear occurring in Chicago are occurring here at Aurora, which is for separation and altitude, and not airplanes that are coming into O'Hare or taking off from O'Hare. Would that be correct?
Mr. DUFFY. That would be correct, Congressman. One of the problems that we have to deal with, and I can understand why the media does this, but the general public certainly doesn't understand the difference between an en route and a terminal system. And when they're doing news reports on the Chicago Air Traffic Control Center at Aurora, typically you'll find the newsman standing at O'Hare giving the report and referring to the O'Hare radar being down, and it's really misinformation.
Mr. MANZULLO. The second question I have, and maybe this should be reserved for the next panel, and, Mr. Duffy, you probably would be closest to it. How many hours a week, on the average, are your air traffic controllers working? Mr. Burke?
Mr. BURKE. It's a standard 40-hour week. We use overtime. In fact, we just used quite a bit of overtime to cover for the voice switching communication system, our new air-to-ground and ground-to-ground system training. We normally spend around $10,000 a quarter for operational overtime and that is used mainly to back up sick leave when somebody calls in sick and we need to replace them. We use very little additional overtime.
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Mr. MANZULLO. What would you do with the answer to that question if I made it in reference to the men and women that actually work the tower at O'Hare or is that beyond your experience here?
Mr. BURKE. I'm not familiar with what they're working there now.
Mr. MANZULLO. Would you know that?
Mr. BELGER. I can tell you in general terms because I've looked at the data in the last few days. They work, again, a standard, basic 40-hour week. The overtime used in that facility has been relatively constant the last few years and, in fact, I think it's decreased a little bit in the last couple years.
Mr. MANZULLO. My understanding from talking to some of the controllers is that they're all working 6-day weeks and it's somewhere between 45 and 55 to 60 hours a week. You don't have that information.
Mr. BURKE. We don't have that information. But I know from being on a finance committee in the region that they use about $140,000 a quarter in overtime, which is a significant amount. So I imagine that there's more overtime being used there than here considering that we're about three times the size of O'Hare. So that question could be answered and we could get it to the Committee very quickly.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MANZULLO. Mr. Duffy, a sociological question with regard to the outages and the antiquated equipment that's here at this facility. What impact, if any, does that have upon air traffic controller absenteeism, morale, personal problems, depression, things of that nature?
Mr. DUFFY. I can't speak to the air traffic controller, but I can speak to the airway facilities technicians.
Mr. MANZULLO. That's what I'm talking about. I'm sorry.
Mr. DUFFY. It certainly has had an impact on the morale of the technicians that work in this facility. Being under constant media attention is certainly not an environment that any technician would like to be working in. In addition to the concerns that the air traffic controllers have in attracting technicians to a facility like this, why would a technician want to come here and work under these conditions when they can earn the same money elsewhere in a less stressful environment. So we suffer the same kind of problem that the air traffic controllers do.
Also, 31 of the people that work in the Chicago area in airway facilities are eligible to retire right now and I expect next year that probably 12 of those folks will retire. But if Congress enacts legislation that attacks their retirement benefits, such as raising their retirement to a high five, I would expect that number to increase drastically.
Mr. MANZULLO. Thank you.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Manzullo. Dr. Loeb, we've let you off pretty easy here today. Let me ask you this. We've talked a lot about computer outages. Which is the more serious problem, computer outages or loss of power? And, second, we've sort of assumed that when these old computers are replaced, that we won't have any reliability problems, but Mr. Belger mentioned the ASR9 and in Miami there were five occurrences in June where aircraft disappeared off the radar screen and he mentioned the infant mortality problems, I think is the way he described it.
Are we going to have aare there safety concerns about even some of the new equipment as it comes on-line?
Dr. LOEB. Mr. Chairman, let me perhaps take the first question and try to answer that first. I think that question was the computer failures versus some other type of failure. I think certainly the controllers to whom we spoke indicated that their greatest concern would not have been the 9020E failure, but a total power failure, a total facility power failure, such as occurred at Oakland or Miami, in the Miami case, a lightning strike or something else taking out the power.
When that occurs, there is no means of tracking the airplanes nor of communicating with them, and so the system has to accomodate thisthe flight crews have to contact the other facilities in the area and these facilities have to take the handoffs and handle the traffic. So that's a more serious problem, at least from what we've heard from the controllers. Total power failures are infrequent, but they do occur.
As to the second issue, the 9020E replacement, the DCCR replacement will hopefully resolve the issue with the 9020Es. It will not resolve any other computer problems that they may have or radar installation problems. I believe that it's fairly safe to say that any time you introduce new equipment, be it radar equipment or computer equipment, you're going to have some startup problems and I think the FAA is fully aware of that and is trying to address these issues. But I think it would be naive to assume that a simple replacement, such as a DCCR or perhaps even the DSR when it comes on-line, is going to eliminate all of their problems.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Also, I think you said when you testified earlier that each instance that we were talking about, each outage or whatever type of problem it was, was certainly a matter of concern. I suppose it's true, is it not, that when we're talking about such a tremendous number of takeoffs and landings every day, that even when you're talking about extremely high percentages of success, still you're talking about numerous instances that are of concern to us. Is that the way you would put it?
Dr. LOEB. I think I'd start by saying that we believe the system is highly reliable and we believe the system is inherently safe. Having said that, any outage, any failure in the system is cause for concern. Now, there are backup systems on which they can fall back if there are problems, but even in the event of complete power outages, which certainly is not something that we would want to happen, the system has handled itself.
That does not mean that due diligence is not required. It certainly is needed to replace the aging equipment and to get these systems on-line as fast as they can. But I think we would be remiss if we did not say that the system is safe as it is now.
Mr. DUNCAN. One last question. The National Transportation Safety Board comes in after we have a crash and you investigate all of the things at the scene and so forth. Do you feel that the FAA responds well to the recommendations that your agency makes? Do you have a good relationship and do you feel that the FAA is doing everything that's humanly possible now to make sure that our system is safe and reliable?
Dr. LOEB. I think our relationship with the FAA is excellent. I think we have a very good working relationship with them. The FAA tends to accept most of our recommendations. They have accepted on the order of 82 or 83 percent of all of the recommendations we've issued to them, probably as much as 90 percent of all of the urgent recommendations. And as I said, I think our working relations are good.
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As to whether they are doing everything that is humanly possible, I really can't answer that. I believe they are addressing all of the problems to the best of their ability right now. Whether there are ways of improving things even further, that's what we're going to look at in our special investigation as we complete it.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. We need to conclude with this panel because we've got several other witnesses that we're going to go to now. Gentlemen, thank you very much for very informative and helpful testimony and thank you for being with us, once again.
I'm now going to turn this hearing over to Vice Chairman Weller and let him presidelet him introduce the next panel of witnesses and preside over the hearing from this point.
Mr. WELLER [PRESIDING]. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would want to announce at this time, so everyone knows the remaining time involved in the hearing, that it is the intent of this Committee to conclude this hearing 1:00 p.m. to accommodate our witnesses and I would ask our witnesses if they could quickly take their seats and also ask that if possible, if you're able to succinctly summarize your testimony so we can maximize the amount of time for questions.
We have representation here from the airlines, the technicians, the air traffic controllers, as well as the City of Chicago Aviation Commission.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We will begin our testimony and our third panel will be led off by a representative of United Airlines, Captain William B. Cotton, who is an aviation navigation specialist for United Airlines. Mr. Cotton, if you would begin your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF CAPT. WILLIAM B. COTTON, AVIATION NAVIGATION SPECIALIST, UNITED AIRLINES; WANDA GEIST, PRESIDENT, PROFESSIONAL AIRWAYS SYSTEMS SPECIALISTS, CHAPTER 101, CHICAGO AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER, ACCOMPANIED BY RIC HONSA, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT (PASS); JAMES POOLE, GREAT LAKES REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION; MARK SCHOLL, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO CENTER, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION; AND DAVID R. MOSENA, COMMISSIONER OF AVIATION, CHICAGO, IL
Mr. COTTON. Thank you, Mr. Weller, and good afternoon, everyone. I thank you for the opportunity to share the views of United Airlines and to represent the air carriers that use Chicago on this very important topic.
As you know, United is the world's largest air carrier and Chicago is our biggest operation. So we are very concerned about the safety and the efficiency of air traffic control, especially in the Chicago area.
As the operators of airplanes, the airlines have the final responsibility for the safety entrusted to us by our customers. In the case of these computer outages, we agree with the testimony of Mr. Belger that safety has not been compromised. This is due both to the backup computer systems which were put to use, the TCAS, which we have in all of our airplanes, and the measures taken by the controller personnel to slow the rate at which air traffic could enter Chicago Center's air space.
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In the recent outages, the backups have worked as they should. The controllers could still talk to the pilots, see us on the displays, and they knew who was who. There was understandable nervousness about the possibility of additional failures, but these did not occur. The result of the measures taken to slow down air traffic is, of course, delays.
On September 12, one of the most recent ones, the delay taken by United Airlines alone cost us $154,000 in just the direct operating costs of the airplanes that were delayed. In addition, tens of thousands of our customers had their travel plans disrupted. Therefore, the display channel rehost cannot come too soon, as we see it, to prevent further occurrences of this type.
While this near-term fix is still 2 years away from an operating capability, we must also realize that this will not provide any additional efficiency or flexibility to the users of the air space. The airlines want more than just better reliability from the ATC system. This industry needs and expects improved capabilities from ATC. These capabilities must make it possible to use the abundant air space over our Nation more efficiently.
We know how this can be done. The FAA and the aviation industry are just putting the finishing touches on a plan for implementing what is known as free flight in the U.S. This plan will call for major portions of a new system to be in place in the next 5 years. The plan will go nowhere, however, without more effective program management and committed congressional support.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What a sorry plight we find ourselves in right now. Not only is the U.S. not moving ahead quickly with ground systems automation to support free flight in the domestic system, we are instead in a scramble to patch up the existing system just to keep it operating. We must learn some important lessons from the events that led to the current situation here. The advanced automation system, planned a decade-and-a-half ago, proved to be unmanageable, too large, and too complex a program to be undertaken all at once in a technology area which is completely turning over every couple of years.
The management of the advanced automation system got completely out of hand during the previous Administration, even with frequent congressional oversight. It finally collapsed last year when it was apparent that it would not accomplish the needs of today, even if it were finished and put into place. I hope we will take these events which have brought us here to Aurora as a clear sign that this industry has to quit going around boasting the best ATC system in the world and instead buckle down to the tasks that are necessary to become what we already claim we are.
The steps outlined by Mr. Belger are a necessary first step, but they are only that. We must get on with true modernization of the air traffic control processes, as described in the RTCA's task force on the implementation of free flight.
The Nation's air transportation system and, to a great degree, our national economy, which is so dependent on efficient, as well as safe transportation, are truly at stake.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That concludes my remarks. I will submit a prepared statement to the Clerk and I'm prepared to take any questions that you have.
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Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Captain Cotton. Our next witness is Wanda Geist, Chicago Chapter President of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, the technicians. She's also accompanied by Ric Honsa, National Executive Vice President of PASS. Ms. Geist.
Ms. GEIST. Good morning. I'm an FAA facilities technician at Chicago Center. I'm President of PASS Chapter 101. PASS is extremely concerned about the equipment outages at Chicago Center and at other facilities throughout the country. We see three major problems that put the national air space system in jeopardy todayantiquated equipment, staffing problems, and a lack of training.
The majority of recent outages at Chicago Center occurred due to a breakdown of the 9020E display channel complex primary computer, equipment made with 1960s technology. There are a limited number of parts left to repair the 9020E and those parts are also 30 years old.
A replacement system for the DCC, the display channel complex replacement is now being funded. According to the FAA, it is not cost-effective to train our technicians on this interim DCCR. PASS does not understand this rationale. Our technicians have worked miracles to maintain archaic systems and to increase their life spans, thus savings taxpayers millions of dollars.
Also, both the FAA and the GAO have estimated that the agency would save approximately $45,000 per staff year if it utilized its in-house staff rather than contractor staff. If tax dollars are going to be used wisely, the DCCR should be utilized as a backup system once the DSR is on line and FAA technicians should maintain the system.
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There are also other weak links in the NAS system. One of these is the display used by controllers every day, the PVD. They are as old as the DCC and have many of the same problems. These displays have been running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for over 25 years, and now they break frequently and parts are difficult to obtain.
When I started working at Chicago Center 3 years ago, there were ten technicians in the unit which maintains the displays and the DARC backup computer. Today there are six. One of the six is retiring this week. Then there will be five. Of the five, three more are eligible to retire and could retire any day. Then there will be two. One of those two will be eligible to retire next year. Then there will be me. In other units, similar situations exist. All but one of the four journeyman technicians currently certified on the 9020E could retire by next year.
The communications and environment unit both have seven technicians, with three eligible to retire in each unit by next year. Both of these units have workloads for over 13 people. This problem is prevalent throughout the Nation in the AF workforce. There is simply not enough technicians to perform the required maintenance or cover the required watches.
In August, my unit performed 262 corrective maintenance actions in the display area and was able to complete only 68 percent of scheduled preventive maintenance on display equipment. On a typical day, there are approximately 70 pieces of equipment awaiting corrective maintenance. In 1981, our AF profession consisted of over 11,600 technicians who were responsible for maintaining 19,000 facilities and equipment. Today, personnel has been reduced to less than 6,000. Meanwhile, the number of facilities and equipment has grown to over 31,000.
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Despite all of these facts, we are still being told we are over-staffed. I'm curious to know where the 116 technicians the FAA states they are hiring are going. Since it is not here, I can only assume someone's staffing is even more critical than ours. These 116 people will not make a dent in the real problem. The FAA needs to hire technicians immediately, considerably more than 116. However, this alone will not solve all the agency's problems.
The FAA must hang onto all of its trained personnel to maintain the NAS until the new hires are trained and certified. We need to retain those we have and we need to have the ability to attract fully trained technicians to this facility to help us now.
The stress levels of technicians at Chicago Center and nationwide are high, employee morale is very low. The size of our workload has doubled in the last 5 years, yet we have not see a pay grade change in 20 years. Controllers, managers and administrative support staff have received upgrades. New equipment is too slow in arriving, if it arrives at all. Often, after installation, the contractor leaves and it is up to the technicians to work out the problems in the system, but we are still continually threatened with the possibility of our jobs being given to contractors.
Congress has introduced bills to cut our Federal retirement and health benefits and to decrease our current pay by cutting the 5 percent Air Traffic Revitalization Act. PASS is especially concerned that Federal employees have become the targets of Congress and the pawns in the budgetary debates. If Congress changes the Federal retirement system, we have a clear indication that our retirement eligible technicians will leave government service.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for allowing me to testify.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Ms. Geist. Mr. Honsa, do you have an accompanying brief statement you could summarize?
Mr. HONSA. No, but we'll be available to answer questions.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you. Our next witness is Mr. Mark Scholl, who is a facility representative at Chicago Center for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Mr. Scholl is accompanied by James Poole, who is the Great Lakes Regional Vice President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association. So, Mr. Scholl, if you would give us your testimony.
Mr. SCHOLL. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. I would like to welcome you to Chicago Center, the busiest air traffic facility in the world. I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today. I would like to offer you, Secretary Peña and Administrator Hinson my support in solving the very difficult air traffic issues we face.
These are issues we must solve together. I would like to offer you some ideas from controllers that will enable us to move toward these solutions. We are all aware of the recent failures of the 9020E computer here and at four other centers and are now famous backup system. The backup system is a safe system once the center has stabilized after a primary computer failure. The critical time is in those few minutes immediately after a failure when the center must accommodate the same volume of traffic that it was working on the primary system.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is a wonderful testimonial to the skill and experience of our controllers that we are able to accomplish this routinely. What would happen if we were forced to utilize the backup system indefinitely? Under this scenario, the safety of the system would be protected at the expense of capacity. Essentially, until the new computer is operational at the Chicago Center, there exists the probability of a prolonged reduction in capacity, at great economic cost to the Nation.
When operating under the backup system, a highly qualified and experienced air traffic controller becomes essential to the safety of the system. We have empirical evidence that an increased number of experienced controllers can avert potential air traffic crises. On September 12, our primary system at Chicago Center failed again. Yet, we were able to run over 9,500 operations, nearly a normal volume, on the backup system without incident. How did we do it? On that day, we, coincidentally, had nearly 30 extra controllers in the facility for a training course. These controllers were supplemented with additional controllers working overtime.
When the system failed, the controllers in training were recalled to duty. With the extra help and productivity, we were able to keep the system running at a near normal level, all while operating on our backup system. These were experienced journeyman controllers who were familiar with Chicago Center's operations. Experience, of course, becomes a premium.
As with pilots, doctors and other professionals, experience dictates the highest levels of success. Air traffic control is no different. Today, Chicago Center maintains an operational error rate of under 30 for three million operations. That is an unprecedented low human error rate.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The interim solution lies in the one resource the FAA has readily availableexperienced air traffic controllers. We are asking for an immediate program that will send 50 to 75 GS14 center controllers to Chicago Center. These controllers can be operationally certified within several months.
This is not to say we could not train terminal controllers here. On the contrary, we can and we have. However, it takes time to train these controllers. During the pay demonstration project, the average training time for the center transferrees to train to journeyman level was 7 months. The average time for terminal controllers to train to journeyman level was 23 months.
Therefore, it would not be judicious for the FAA to send us controllers who we would not be able to utilize until after the new computer is operational. But 16 of the 20 controllers Secretary Peña talks about sending us are terminal controllers. To attract the experienced controller, we must reinstitute incentives such as the very successful pay demonstration project. Without this incentive, it is very doubtful that centers such as Chicago can attract the required number of controllers.
Why would a controller want to come to a place that suffers from serious mechanical breakdowns, works more traffic than anywhere else in the world and is located in a high cost-of-living area, all at the same salary? That is why there are only two center controllers on the list of 20 being sent here that can actually come. This is not acceptable.
Your Committee was instrumental in the implementation of the pay demonstration project which OPM called the most successful demonstration project ever. This same project also addressed the importance of retaining experienced controllers. At Chicago Center, retirements are increasing and controllers are bidding out. The retention side of pay demo kept controllers here. Although the fairest approach would be to let Chicago Center controllers leave, at this juncture, we must ensure that our best controllers remain at those places where we need them the most.
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In closing, air traffic controllers are dedicated to ensuring the safety of the system. Each day, without fanfare, controllers at Chicago Center safely guide up to 10,000 airplanes through our airspace. We are proud of the service we provide the people of the United States. Each day, thousands of lives depend on us and we take that responsibility very seriously. Our suggestions here should be taken in that spirit.
I take great pride in delivering a service where errors, human or mechanical, are not acceptable. As a controller, I promise to continue to deliver that service to the American people. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to offer these suggestions to the Committee.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Scholl. Mr. Poole, do you have a supportive statement which you could summarize?
Mr. POOLE. Yes, sir, I do have. Just real briefly. Once again, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I want to thank you for holding the hearings here. Lately, it seems that every time you pick up a newspaper or tune in the television news, they're reporting another
Mr. WELLER. Mr. Poole, could you move the microphone closer, please?
Mr. POOLE. Lately, it seems that every time you pick up a newspaper or tune in the television, you're seeing another failure in the air traffic control system. Mark has just testified the particular computer failures experienced by our top caliber controllers here at Chicago Center. These failures are occurring all across our Nation.
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It seems to be business as usual. Controllers are being asked to do more with less and, at the same time, programs are being instituted that have an impact on them. An example is programs like the national route program. This program puts increasing demands on facilities with known equipment deficiencies. From the controller's perspective, our Nation's air traffic controller system is in distress.
Controllers and technicians are paying a personal price to maintain that systemcumulative stress. Yes, we have the safest system in the world, only because of the men and women on the front lines, the air traffic controllers and the systems specialists. Yes, we have the most efficient system in the world, but, once again, only because of those men and women.
It seems unbelievable that controllers, at the very time when their true worth to the Nation is so obvious, Congress is attempting to cut their pay and benefits. Mr. Chairman, air traffic has increased by 30 percent since 1981, while controller staffing has shrunk by 1,144 in the same period. System failures and outages cannot continue to be looked at in a vacuum. They must be viewed on the whole.
NATCA believes they are indicators of a system that is moving towards failure. The question is are we willing to help or are we willing to wait and practice institutional fingerpointing?
Mr. Chairman, please don't construe our critical comments today as being aimed at Administrator Hinson or Secretary Peña. This collapse started long before either of them took office. We do, however, disagree with the Administrator and the Secretary when they boast about system reliability being above the 99 percent range. For your interest, that 1 percent left over correlates to an average of 100 flights a day in Chicago, 20 in Pittsburgh, 40 in Oakland, 70 in Cleveland. Do you want a seat on one of these flights?
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Although we understand the reasons for taking this action, we totally disagree with their approach. NATCA feels that the strategy tends to trivialize very serious system deficiencies. The truth is computers are the heart of today's air traffic control system. Radar systems are its eyes and radios are its ears. When any of these facilities fail, the effects are multiplied, especially if it occurs at an air traffic control center that is responsible for multi-state services. When these outages occur, Mr. Chairman, the soul of the system, the air traffic controller, does not fail.
I'd like to offer the following recommendations to assist our air traffic control system to continue world leadership in safety and efficiency on and into the 21st century. Reform the FAA procurement policy to allow new technology into the system while it is still new technology. Provide better funding mechanisms for the FAA. Authorize and fund the hiring of 1,500 air traffic controllers for the system as a whole. Additionally, implement a vehicle that allows us to attract high caliber controllers at our busiest facilities and those facilities that are historically understaffed.
Again, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to present our views. As an attachment to my testimony, I'm including a list of many of the systems failures that we have experienced over this long and hot summer. I'll be happy to answer any questions you have and, along with Mr. Scholl, I brought Mr. Carr from O'Hare. I realized earlier there was aboutO'Hare was mentioned approximately 125 times and I would ask the Committee's indulgence for a short statement from Mr. Carr, as well.
Mr. WELLER. If Mr. Carr could be brief. We do have to recognize some witnesses which need to leave by 1:00, which is 20 minutes away. Very brief.
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Mr. CARR. Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is John Carr. I'm an air traffic control specialist at O'Hare and I am the facility representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. I just would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak.
This year to date, the O'Hare TRACON has handled 1.5 million operations, with only two operational errors. When the Administrator speaks to a system which is 99.4 percent available, safe and reliable, he isn't talking about the dedicated professionals I represent. We are operating at 99.99999 percent safety, efficiency and availability.
We do not succeed because of our equipment. We succeed in spite of it. The technology contained in a laptop computer has more computing power than the 9020E you're here to investigate. The digital clarity of a cellular phone is light years ahead of the radios we use to communicate. Our Nation has entered the on-ramp to the information superhighway. The FAA cannot even get their Pinto out of the driveway.
In 1989, the Chicago safety and efficiency review recommended a new TRACON be built for Chicago. This facility has been built. It is slated for commissioning on October 10th of 1996. This facility will have state-of-the-art radios and radar displays. The building cost $100 million. The equipment they are planning to put into it cost $200 million.
But they have once again chosen to ignore their most valuable resourcethe single component that I can promise you will be up and running to perfection the day they open the doors, and that is the working air traffic controllers. The transition plan for the TRACON calls for 77 controllers, each checked out on one or more positions, to work 6-day work weeks in order to staff both facilities, the old and the new, and conduct training, testing and transition. Today, we only have 67 such controllers, seven of those are leaving.
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Someone spoke earlier about overtime. Chicago Center spends $10,000 per quarter on overtime among their 300 employees. You'll hear TRACON spends over $100,000 per quarter on overtime for our 65. The transition plan assumes staffing of 21 for the O'Hare TRACON, which is woefully inadequate and which we believe does a serious disservice to the user. Using the FAA's own staffing standards, the O'Hare TRACON should have 30 controllers per shift.
We currently operate 15 positions, depending on weather and workload. The new facility is equipped to open with 29 radar and nine non-radar positions; yet, the FAA has made no adjustment in staffing levels to compensate for this. The FAA's commitment to you, the Congress, the aviation community and the American flying public has been service will improve and delays will decrease in our new facility.
I am here to tell you that without additional staffing, there will be no improvement in service, there will be no decrease in delays. I can also tell you that without the 77 controllers on board and certified 1 year from this month, we can't even begin to move into that new building.
Of 19 equipment items currently being tracked by the FAA, in a schedule analysis report dated September 5, 11 of them are either yellow or red in terms of their timeframe viability for the new building. One key component is the status of the automated flight data processing system, which is how we transfer data from the control tower at O'Hare to the new facility in Elgin, Illinois.
At the last task force meeting, representatives of air traffic were asked to come up with a contingency plan in the event that this equipment could not be engineered in time for the facility's commissioning. The only contingency plan currently available calls for the addition of four air traffic controllers each shift, one for each quadrant, to coordinate information manually for each aircraft departure from O'Hare. We simply do not have that kind of personnel.
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Mr. WELLER. Mr. Carr, in recognition of time, if you could bring your testimony to a close.
Mr. CARR. Yes, sir. I have attached to my testimony a summary of programs that have been tried at O'Hare for the last 29 years to staff that facility. It has been understaffed since 1966. The only one that ever worked was the pay demonstration project and I urge this Committee to consider reinstating it. Thank you.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Carr. Mr. Mosena, Commissioner of Aviation for the City of Chicago. You have the distinction of being our last witness today. Thank you for participating.
Mr. MOSENA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is David Mosena. I'm Commissioner of Aviation for the City of Chicago. I'm here representing Mayor Richard M. Daley, who could not be with us this morning, but I did bring a letter from the Mayor for the record and would like to welcome you to the Chicago area.
The failures that we have seen here at the FAA air traffic control center in Aurora, of course, concern us all greatly and I applaud this Committee and your presence here today demonstrates your concern and your awareness of the importance of long needed reform of our Nation's air traffic control system.
In Chicago, we have been doing our best to focus on the needs of the most critical hub in our national air transportation system, O'Hare International Airport. We have made numerous air field improvements, such as hold pads, remote de-icing facilities and high speed exits, to ensure safety and reduce delay on the ground, which costs the airlines and air travelers millions of dollars each year.
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However, we are only part of a larger team which must also have the tools and the resources necessary to accomplish its mission. We all recognize the problems we face as a result of the out-of-date air traffic control technology and it serves none of us well to rehash the mistakes of the past mismanagement and the development of the advanced automation system, which is now 10 years behind schedule and four billion over budget.
What we need to do is to begin to solve the problem today and I believe that your leadership is critical to its resolution. There is a cardinal rule at the FAA that safety will never be compromised, and I believe that it is not. The public demands this and deserves no less. The pilots adhere to this, the air traffic controllers do, also, and we have the best air transportation system in the world and others model theirs on our standards.
Not one airplane would take off or land at O'Hare if the FAA had any safety concerns. Secretary Peña and Administrator Hinson have worked diligently on an interim solution and should be commended for their efforts in this difficult situation. And the fine men and women who operate our air traffic control system, who work at the Aurora and other facilities, should be applauded for guiding thousands of people every single day through our airport system not only here, but throughout the five-state region which they oversee.
Yet, unfortunately, these failures have created the perception that people flying into Chicago's airports are at risk. And I appreciate the questioning that came earlier and responded to by Mr. Belger about the distinction between the Aurora Center and the O'Hare TRACON and the O'Hare tower. The FAA needs to continue to work to allay those public fears and to educate the public on the safety of air travel. It needs to educate the public that those planes taking off and landing at Chicago's airports are not controlled by the Aurora Center, the five-state regional center, but are handled safely and efficiently by the O'Hare TRACON and tower.
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Nevertheless, every time the system goes down, Chicago's airports and the whole national system must endure delays. They cost our region and the entire midwest untold losses in time and productivity. Even an interim solution is about 16 months away. This leaves three questions which I'd state rhetorically to the Committee.
First, what prevented the FAA through three administrations from taking the necessary steps to update the Aurora Center's equipment before it deteriorated to the point where repeated failures continued to occur? Second, what is Congress doing to solve the problems that prevented FAA from acting sooner? And, third, what can Congress do to address this problem until the interim solution can be implemented?
President Clinton's Administration has worked diligently to answer these questions. They've suggested substantive reform of procurement procedures, personnel policies and funding for the FAA. In May '94, the Administration presented its own detailed proposal for air traffic control reform. In the past few weeks, we've seen the Congress taking strong action on these areas by introducing two bills for FAA reform and, Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to note that we applaud that action, Chairman Duncan's action and other bills that are in Congress, and we welcome the beginning of the debate in Congress on this issue.
I urge Congress to act quickly on the Clinton Administration's proposals and those contained in your bill and other pending legislation to reform the FAA. In addition, I strongly request Congress to take appropriate steps to ensure that the FAA can provide adequate and qualified staffing at the Aurora Center to run both the existing main system and the backup systems until the interim system is installed.
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These steps should include that ensuring that an adequate number of staff positions are in the FAA's budget and reinstating the critical pay differential program that provided premium pay for air traffic controllers working in the FAA's busiest center. The pay demonstration project helped these busy centers attract and retain qualified and experienced air traffic controllers, who, without the differential, would work at lighter traffic, less stressful centers for the same salary.
Finally, Mr. President, under current Federal budget policyMr. Chairman, under current Federal budget policy, funds available for the air traffic control system will decrease dramatically. This will occur at the same time the workload on the system continues to increase. In addition, I strongly urge Congress to do whatever is necessary, including appropriate relief from burdensome procurement rules and regulations, as well as the appropriate level of necessary funding to help the FAA fast track the replacement of the Aurora Center's outdated system with the best American technology available.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you very much, Commissioner, and very much appreciate the testimony from our third and last panel.
Some of the comments that came from this panel were, of course, in reference to the appropriations process and this particular year's budget. As I reported earlier, in the appropriations bill that passed the House several weeks ago, and, of course, the House and Senate will be going to conference soon for an agreement between them, not only provided for an increase in funding for the FAA, but we provided forwe reinstated the or maintained the pay differential, which I know is an issue important to the controllers, as well as the technicians. It's been in place for 13 years and we're certainly hopeful the Senate will agree with us on that.
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But I also want to point out not only do we provide for an increase in funding for the FAA, but for the line item to replace computer equipment, we gave the Administration its request at $256 million and also provided an additional $230 million above what they requested for safety and operations enhancement, which we believe can be also very helpful for O'Hare, as well as other airports around the country.
I'd like to direct my question to the technicians, Ms. Geist. In talking with Mr. Burke and Mr. Duffy earlier, they indicated and we were talking about the GAO analysis of the FAA plan, which indicated that if the FAA follows its current action plan, that shortly you would be town the tube, technicians on-site, and he indicated that they've since adjusted their plan in response to the GAO study in order to ensure that as of today, that they would have 24-hour duty, where technicians would always be available.
But it's my understanding that there's a difference between technicians. You have certified technicians and you also have non-certified technicians. And should a computer break down, while the non-certified technicians can do some repair work, you actually have to have a certified technician in place to turn the computer back on. Can you walk us through that?
Ms. GEIST. That's correct. We currently do have four certified journeymen in the unit. We do have a system specialist, like they spoke of, that is very skilled on it. However, the majority of his time, he is currently our DCCR lead for the sector and he currently spends most of his time away from the facility. The supervisor is also certified on the equipment. However, again, due to the realignment that they just did, he is now in charge of three different units. So he is a very busy man and does not work as a technician on this, except for in emergency situations.
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So really we're down to four. Two of them are eligible to retire now. One more will be eligible next year, and then there will only be one left. As far as the certification and non-certification, yes, non-certified technicians can work on the equipment. A certified technician needs to be present and I would not want a non-trained technician working on equipment that could causeworking on this equipment. It could cause more problems than we had before we started.
One of the items that has become open, I guess, is the AF presence idea. If there is one technician at the facility, it's considered an AF presence and, therefore, that will cover the facility. However, that one technician is not trained on all of the equipment. And to say that that one technician can go downstairs if the 9020 breaks and fix it or even to begin repairs, that would be, in some cases, a dangerous thing for that technician to do, both for the technician and for the facility and for the flying public.
Mr. WELLER. Commissioner Mosena indicated not only, of course, when there's a breakdown, there's a perception that safety is a major concern, but also the impact on the economy of the Chicago metropolitan area and the productivity of the area when less flights can come in. It's my understanding a number of the breakdowns, the eight breakdowns that have occurred, that some of them occurred in the middle of the night when technicians were not on duty. How many of those breakdowns occurred when there was not a certified technician on duty available to immediately go about repairing and reactivating equipment?
Ms. GEIST. I cannot give you that number. I'll be happy to research it for you and get back to you with it, but this is a problem as we do not man our facilities 24 hours a day. And one of the problems with this is that by not being here on midnights, there's also no regulated control callback system. There's a list that the maintenance control center keeps of technicians who are in that unit and they call back hoping to get someone available. There is no pager system, there is no one who has to be on-call. No one has to be home to respond to those calls. So it's a matter of hit or miss on whether a technician will respond before 7:00 the next morning.
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[The referenced material follows:]
Mr. WELLER. Just so I understand this, you're responsible for 9,500 flights every 24 hours, that are the responsibility of the Aurora Center. Last night, whenthe last 24 hours, were there technicians on duty all 24 hours?
Ms. GEIST. No, there was not.
Mr. WELLER. And what period of time was the technician not on duty?
Ms. GEIST. Usually from midnight until 7:00 a.m. Now, some technicianssome units that we do maintain 24 hour coverage. That includes the environmental units. They're responsible for the power systems. And, also, the computer operators are also 24 hours. But the flight data processing and radar data processing unit work, I believe, two midnights a week and the rest are left open.
Mr. WELLER. And from your experience, if a breakdown were to occur between midnight and 7:00 a.m., with no certified technician on duty, what's the amount of time it would take for someone to respond and then repair the equipment?
Ms. GEIST. At the least, I would say an hour. Just getting the calls made and getting someone out of bed and into the facility, and that's if you reach someone right away.
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Mr. WELLER. Thank you. In recognition of time, I'll yield back the balance of my time and recognize the ranking member, Mr. Oberstar, for any questions.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to all the members of the panel for being with us today and presenting your thoughts and your concerns.
Captain Cotton, I particularly appreciated your view from the cockpit that safety is not compromised. I think it's very important that the traveling public understand the enormous energy and effort and skill invested by the men and women at this center, at the TRACON and at the tower to keep the system safe and it's important that the traveling public hear it from the flight deck.
Second, personally, I appreciate your recognition of the action by Congress on TCAS. We waited and we waited and we debated with the FAA and they kept waiting for the perfect system that was, in fact, the enemy of the good. We had a good system in hand. Let's move it. Finally, we acted. We enacted legislation to require the implementation of TCAS and airlines groused and grumbled about it and the money they're going to have to spend and the timeframe was too short and now they're probably all on their knees thanking God that it's in and that it's operating and that it's doing what it was promised to do. I appreciate that.
Commissioner Mosena, it's good to see you again and your associate, Bob Repel, sitting here, a very, very able, dedicated person, as both of you are, dedicated professionals in the field of aviation. You've built a billion dollar international arrivals terminal here and did it virtually within the timeframe anticipated, meeting budget, and I think you have something to be very, very proud of.
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But building an air traffic control system is a little different than building a terminal and certainly procurement reform, if they were able to procure, as the City of Chicago did, using modern business practices, they would have been able to acquire equipment much sooner. But nonetheless, you know what problems you have with contractors.
In this case, the problem was that a little mom-and-pop computer company named IBM couldn't deliver on the technology they promised, that they helped design, that they bid on and said they could deliver, and they didn't. They fell short. Now, I think the system is well in hand, but that matter of procurement reform, if you could just offer us a couple of words, from your experience as a governmental unit, with the freedom to operate procurement from these constraints that FAA has to operate under.
Mr. MOSENA. Well, Congressman, your question is right on point because when the Secretary of Transportation was here touring the center several weeks ago and accompanied by Mayor Daley, the Mayor turned to me and said ''Why don't we just get them to delegate this to our procurement system and we'll procure it for them.''
Now, I understand that, again, it's not quite so simple that theand our laws probably don't allow such thing. But the experience we have had has been one that we have tried increasingly in the City of Chicago to streamline approaches to procurement, increasingly privatize government functions in ways that are compatible with our union labor in the city, and, in essence, to emulate the best practices of private business.
What we are pleased with is the action I acknowledged by the legislation that you've been a party to that's been introduced and legislation also I believe on the Senate side that finally addresses this unique need within the FAA to have its own autonomy, to the extent necessary to apply good business practices to these kinds of purchases.
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So we applaud you for that. We think thosewe look forward to Congress resolving those with the Administration and think that that will resolve, in the long term, these kinds of problems happening in the future.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Commissioner. Ms. Geist, the air traffic specialist, you have testified before our Committee many times in the past. We appreciate the skill, the dedication that you and your associates bring to your tasks. Mr. Poole, Mr. Scholl, and Mr. Carr, overtime has long been a matter of dispute between controllers and FAA. There's very little overtime being paid out of the system right now.
You talk about $100,000. In 1985, it was 28 million. In 1986, it was 18 million. In 1987, it was $19 million being paid out and there were 700,000 hours of overtime being worked within the system. There were too few people working too many hours at controls, too much overtime being paid.
Now we don't have as much overtime being paid, but the system is still stressed. You still have people working furiously at controls, but instead of three people working the boards in a team, you've got two. Instead of having air traffic assistant, which we had, they've been dispensed with. And, frankly, I want to say that the FAA has taken the hit for the department in the personnel reductions. When that came about, there was a disproportionate number of reductions within the FAA compared to the overall Department of Transportation.
If there is tinkering with the retirement system, and both the Congress and the Administration are doing things that I fear are going to cause a real morale problem, I think you're going to see people leaving the system and they're going to be the most experienced. They're going to be the FPLs. They're going to be the air traffic specialists, who have got the most experience and who know most about the maintenance requirements of this system.
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You go down there and take that 9020 open and pull down the box and look inside it and the guy or gal that comes in to look at this is going to say ''My God, what do I do now.'' I'd just like a brief comment, because my time has expired here, but a comment on this morale question about the planned changes in retirement and the effect upon people who are working the system.
Mr. SCHOLL. Congressman, that is a very, very important issue. One of the reasons is as our workforce gains in age, people start wearing out. Prior to 1981, the average controller never made it to retirement age because of medical deficiencies. The stress on an individual in this job cannot be over-emphasized.
And one of the things that we have today in our facility is approximately 50 controllers eligible to retire. Those controllers will not allow their family's financial future to be affected by changes in the retirement system and they will leave if it's changed.
So, yes, it's very, very important. That's one of the reason for the retention side of this issue, that we need those experienced controllers. They're kind of the guiding hand of us younger controllers that help us in a crisis. When we have the system go down, we look to those experienced controllers for help and guidance and if they're gone, we won't have that anymore. So that is very important.
Mr. OBERSTAR. In conclusion, I just hope that the result of this hearing is not to shove more technicians onto the midnight shift, and work more midnight shifts than they are already working, because I think there are going to be a lot of them that just bail out and say that's it. I know. I worked midnight shifts in the iron ore mines. It's not nearly as stressful as it is trying to replace computer circuit systems.
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Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. Next, the Chair will recognize Mr. Ewing for 5 minutes.
Mr. EWING. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to defer to Congressman Hastert, who has a time problem and needs to ask a question before he leaves.
Mr. WELLER. Mr. Hastert.
Mr. HASTERT. I thank the gentleman from Pontiac for passing me the gavel here for a second. I'd like to ask Ms. Geist, following up on Mr. Weller's question, how many qualified systems specialists, including yourself, are in this building right now on duty?
Ms. GEIST. On duty in this building right now?
Mr. HASTERT. Yes. People that could respond to an equipment failure.
Ms. GEIST. Probably one from each unit, in most cases. There may be two available right now in some units, but probably one per unit.
Mr. HASTERT. And if a person is on one unit, could he respond to a failure on another unit?
Ms. GEIST. No.
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Mr. HASTERT. Not trained to do that.
Ms. GEIST. He is not trained to do that, in most cases.
Mr. HASTERT. How many people would be available if a problem occurred at 7:00 p.m. tonight?
Ms. GEIST. One per unit, hopefully.
Mr. HASTERT. And if a failure went down at 1:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Ms. GEIST. The environmental unit and thethe environmental unit would be on duty as far as technicians go. We do have the maintenance control center available. They do some small corrective maintenance actions immediately that do not require certification, changing panels on PVDs, that type of minor maintenance they are there for.
Mr. HASTERT. You stated a few minute earlier that 68 percent ofyou can only achieve 68 percent of preventative maintenance because you have responsibilities doing these other things. What is that preventative maintenance?
Ms. GEIST. Preventive maintenance is the maintenance we do to prevent having to do corrective maintenance later. It's making sure all the alignments are correct, going through and cleaning the equipment, changing filters on equipment, making sure all the lights and all the voltages on it are correct. It's everything we do to make sure that the equipment is in good working order so it does not cause more outages and go off the air suddenly.
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Mr. HASTERT. So if you can't clean the equipment and the dust builds up and the dirt builds up and the ventilation is not right, actually, that really cuts down on the life of that equipment. Is that correct?
Ms. GEIST. That's correct.
Mr. HASTERT. So both of them impact upon each other, especially old equipment like this.
Ms. GEIST. Correct. It's like not changing the oil in your car every 3 months. If you change it every 2 years instead of every 3 months, your car is going to wear out faster.
Mr. HASTERT. Thank you. I think that speaks for itself and I think there are some things that we should try to correct, from my point of view. I yield back.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Hastert. The Chair recognizesI guess Mr. Borski is not there. Mr. Hutchison.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Thank you. I'll be very brief. Captain Cotton, can you just tell me how noticeable is it to pilots when the air traffic control system fails and they're on the backup system? Is it noticeable to pilots and how noticeable is it?
Mr. COTTON. If it happens at the time we are in the air space of Chicago Center, for example, we would probably hear about it right away. The controller would say we just lost our computer and he may or may not take some action as a result of that right at the time.
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Where we notice it even more is if we were bound for Chicago or we were sitting on the ground at O'Hare trying to get out of Chicago, because that's not going to happen. They are very efficient at stopping the system when they have an outage of equipment in their facility. That's what we notice first and most and our passengers along with it.
Mr. HUTCHISON. When those delays occur, is there any way to estimate the cost to United or any other airlines that are experiencing those kind of delays?
Mr. COTTON. Yes. After the fact, we can do that. The outage on September 12, which was not one of the more major ones this summer, cost United $154,000 in just direct operating costs of the extra airplane time that we flew on that day. That says nothing about the disruption to all of our customers, of course.
Mr. HUTCHISON. I guess when you ripple that all across the United States, there's not only a safety issue, but a big economic issue, as well.
Mr. COTTON. It's primarily an economic issue. The safety is pretty well taken care of because of people like these here and Ms. Geist. That is taken care of and we're confident of that and we can tell from our seat in the cockpit that that is being taken care of. But the economic issue is just enormous.
Mr. HUTCHISON. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Hutchison. The Chair recognizes Mr. LaHood.
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Mr. LAHOOD. Captain and also members of the air traffic controllers represented here, I think I speak for most people, most Americans who fly. We are in your debt for the good service that you provide to all Americans who are flying the skies on a regular basis, as all of us at this table do, when we go back to our districts every weekend and fly into National Airport and many of us use O'Hare as our main source of either transferring on or whatever.
For those of us that have toured the facility today to see the kind of equipment that's in place and yet to see the kind of dedication I think we would all say to you thank you for the good work that you do and I think there is a strong commitment in Congress, as demonstrated by our presence here today, that we need to do something. We will do something. Obviously, timeliness is of the essence here.
But there is no question that air traffic controllers and people who pilot these planes are dedicated people. So I would just say that I don't have any questions because I think you've been pretty forthright in your testimony and you've really laid out for us what we should be doing in our responsibility as legislators in providing the right equipment, the correct equipment, money and funding to do what's necessary here.
I just might add, as a note, I think it's justit's a personal thing with me. I think it's wrong for Congress to change retirement programs for Federal employees. I guarantee you we would not do that to our own retirement program and yet we look to Federal retirees and we look to Federal employees to change their retirement programs.
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Applause.]
Mr. LAHOOD. And I think it's wrong. And the examples that you used today should be a clear message to all of us that if we want to keep good, capable, experienced people doing the good job that they're doing, they need to be rewarded and it can't be rewarded just by pay. Part of it has to be other benefits, such as retirement programs and other benefits.
So I say to all of you thank you. I am always amazed when I board an airplane and that big hunk of steel gets up in the air. Captain, I don't know how it's done. I've never been able to figure it out. And to think of the work that the air traffic controllers do, it's marvelous and I congratulate all of you for the great work you're doing on behalf of the American public who fly on a very regular basis.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. LaHood. The Chair recognizes Mr. Manzullo.
Mr. MANZULLO. Let me again echo what Congressman LaHood said. It is very unusual at a field hearing to get more than two or three members of Congress. I think today we had nine members show up. And the main reason that I am here is because of what I've heard from the air traffic controllers who are burned out. They're tired, they're exhausted, they're working too many hours and they've come to us repetitively and said can something be done.
I just also want to commend the spirit of the people that work here at this facility, those in the control towers. I do have one question to ask of you, Captain Cotton, and that is you were very explicit in your written statement and in your oral testimony that when the outage occurs, this is not a safety problem, but an inconvenience problem.
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But my question to you would be as the number of air passengers increases each year and it's been going up dramatically each year, could you ever reach that point where it does, in fact, become a safety problem?
Mr. COTTON. Mr. Manzullo, it's really not a function of the number of passengers that are traveling. It's a function of how the system is designed to respond in the event of a failure. As long as we are careful in that design to make sure that it is backed up both on the ground and in the airplane, we can continue to ensure the safety of the system, regardless of how many people we carry.
Mr. MANZULLO. I guess my question would be more if there are more flights in the air. But I guess you can only handle so many flights now anyway, regardless of the equipment. Is that correct? So many slots. Mr. Poole?
Mr. POOLE. In answer to your question, we are getting more and more flights in. NRP has one program I talked about earlier that transfers additional flights into sectors that previously did not have them. It is a safety problem when equipment fails, because your capacity with the NAS system and everything operating is 100 percent.
When you go to the DARC system, as was spoke about earlier by Mr. Belger, the capacity is more like 80 percent. And when you try to transfer from 100 percent to 80 percent instantaneously, it does create a short period of time that is not necessarily safe. That was what we were addressing on the safety issues.
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC TCAS is an addition to the system. Us, as air traffic controllers, may not necessarily think it's the same wonderful system that some of the other groups do, but it is not a fail-safe system. TCAS does not track non-transponder aircraft. Most of the mid-air collisions that have occurred in this country in the last 25 years have been the largebetween aircraft not utilizing transponder technology, a point we'd like to raise here. A very, very serious concern. Relying on TCAS to be an absolute backup is not necessarily so.
Mr. MANZULLO. Cessna aircraft is going to be back into manufacturing. They're building a plant, with 6,000 new employees, in Kansas. When I learned to fly in my 150, probably the greatest danger was a mid-air and there is just nothing that you could do for safety in uncontrolled strips or in other small airports.
In fact, I used to fly with my landing light on. People saw that landing light and said, well, that's Manzullo wasting his money burning that landing lamp. That cost me 55 cents an hour to burn that lamp when I was in the sky, regardless of whether it was in the patch or just flying around. And right after that, the FAA, I guess, issued some type of a statement saying, well, we think it's a good idea to burn your landing light all the time because it helps avoid mid-air collisions.
But I think that general aviation is going to increase. Obviously, Cessna would not be adding 6,000 employees and building presumably 152s and 172s, et cetera. Certainly, that has got to add to the concern of people like you, Captain Cotton, because the little guys are up there without transponders and they're hard to track at times.
Mr. COTTON. There are fewer of them up there without transponders than there used to be.
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Mr. MANZULLO. Is that correct?
Mr. COTTON. Very much so. And the air space is divided so that if you don't have a transponder, for example, you can't come within 30 miles of O'Hare. All of the high altitude air space requires the use of transponders. He's right. If an airplane is not equipped with a transponder, TCAS won't see it. So we also continue to maintain our vigilance and we in the airliners also keep our landing lights on all the time when we're below 18,000 feet.
Mr. MANZULLO. Thank you very much. I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Mr. Manzullo. The Chair recognizes the full Chairman of the Subcommittee, Mr. Duncan, for any questions he might have or a brief statement.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Weller. I'm going to be very quick because we've got to catch a plane and I know you all have been here long enough and we certainly appreciate your testimony. I'm sorry that I had to slip out for a few minutes. I've been talking to some of the employees of this facility and that's been some interesting conversations, also.
But I just wonder. Earlier this year, we held a hearing on the global positioning system and I just wonder if any of you see the day that technology may improve to the point where we would need fewer air traffic controllers. I don't mean that in any way offensively to what we have now.
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Mr. POOLE. No. There's a lot of talk about free flight or what have you. All I know is that the communication switching system I use today my father worked on on battle ship in World War II. So until the technology of the systems are able to support a concept such as that, I don't see, in my lifetime, anything anywhere near that. I'd like to comment a little bit on what Congressman Manzullo said. I guarantee you, the members of this Committee, that when you're flying in Chicago Center's air space, you are 100 percent safe.
I think it is wrong for the Administrator to say there's a percentage less than that because every time you have flown through this air space, every time there has been a failure, the men and women controllers of this facility have protected this system. It's not because of the equipment. We do that in spite of the equipment. And maybe someday you'll be able to do without us. I hope my retirement is okay and then I can watch while that happens, but I don't see that happening soon.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much. And Jerry asked that maybe I just make a couple of concluding comments and I'll be very, very brief, and then he's going to close the hearing. But I want to thank everyone for coming. I think this has been a very informative hearing. I think it does all of the members of the Subcommitteeit does us good to get out into the country and talk to the people who are on the firing line and to see more of these centers and facilities that are involved in our aviation system.
I want to thank all of you for the hard work that you've put into your testimony and I want to thank all of the audience for being so quiet and attentive and supportive of this hearing. I think it's been a very successful hearing and I appreciate it. That took hard work from a lot of people, the least of which was what we the members had to do. So thank you all very, very much.
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Mr. WELLER. Thank you, Chairman Duncan. I want to thank you very much for your commitment to hold this hearing. All so often, congressional hearings are held in buildings in Washington, D.C. and it's extremely helpful, as the Chairman pointed out, when we take time to get out and talk to real people in real communities and real facilities and talk to the folks in the trenches.
This has certainly been a very rewarding and learning experience I think for all of us who participated in today's hearing. I want to thank all the panelists, all the witnesses, and also the air traffic control staff and those who hosted us in their facility and opened their doors to us today.
Just from a bookkeeping standpoint, some of us have additional questions. I know I have an additional question for Captain Cotton on the TCAS. Other members of the panel may have additional questions, which you and your staff have 10 additional days to submit for the record. Also, for anyone in the audience or others who wish to submit testimony for the record or additional documents, you have 30 days in which to submit those documents.
Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you. It's clear there is a need for reform. I believe there is a strong bipartisan commitment to reform the purchasing, the personnel and procedural operations of the air traffic control system and it's going to take a bipartisan effort and it's clearly the message from our panelists today that it's a team effort, as well. We all have to work together, whether it's the controllers and technicians, the Administrators or members of Congress or the Administration. This clearly must be a bipartisan effort.
Page 121 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think the message we bring to you is that's the spirit we want to work in, as well. We need to solve the problem together. It's not going to happen overnight and we're committed to working with you.
So with that, this Aviation Subcommittee hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 1:20 p.m., the Subcommittee was recessed, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]