Essay about Problems in Air Traffic Control and Proposed Solutions

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Problems in Air Traffic Control and Proposed Solutions

In northern California this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) unintentionally performed it's first operational test of "free flight"; aviation without direct air traffic control. This was an unintentional experiment because it was a result of a total shut-down of the Oakland Air Route
Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).
Although Oakland is only the 16th busiest ARTCC, it's responsible for the largest block of airspace of any ATC facility; 18 million square miles.
Oakland directs all upper-level flight from San Luis Obispo, California to the
California/Oregon boarder, including most Pacific oceanic routes. The failure happened at 7:13 a.m. local time
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Flight crews did their own improvising. Some pilots squawked VFR and continued the flight on their own. Others continued on their previously issued clearance, while others climbed into or descended out of Class A airspace without a clearance. Later analysis tells us one of the biggest problems was nobody believed a prolonged outage like this could occur. Both controllers and supervisors worked on the assumption their radar and radios would come back "any moment now".
The same thought process prevailed at Bay (Oakland) TRACON where operations were paralyzed by the Center's blackout. It's impossible to say how many separation losses occurred during the hour-long episode. Some near mid-air reports were filed, but the vast majority of separation-loss situations will probably go unreported. After power was restored, and the primary radar system was returned to operation, extensive air traffic delays, diversions, and flight cancellations persisted for many hours at
Bay area airports, especially departures from San Francisco International. We may never know the full aftermath of this incident. Changes will be made as to how power is fed to ATC facilities, and how maintenance is performed.
Contingency plans will be rewritten and controllers will be trained how to implement them. Meanwhile, controllers nation wide are brushing up on their non- radar and lost-comm procedures.
After an extensive investigation, it's now clear why the
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