FAA, NATCA Clash

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The FAA is disputing the spin on a National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) press release that claims that the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) system at the Syracuse Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) center was out for 17 hours due to FAA understaffing. In the news release, headlined "STARS Fails At Syracuse And Help From FAA Is Nowhere To Be Found," NATCA says there was a 17-hour shutdown of the STARS system. However, the FAA's Greg Martin said that's false. "STARS did not fail and the union knows that STARS did not fail," Martin said. Martin said what failed was a communications link between control facilities called the Interfacility Connection. The STARS system kept working but its data couldn't be shared among the facilities. He agreed that it took almost a day to fix the problem because there were no technicians on duty. "They're not staffed around the clock by virtue of their volume," he said. The failure meant that controllers had to manually hand off traffic to other facilities but Martin said there was never any safety concern and the union agreed, with qualifications. "Anytime there is an unnecessary increase in a controller's workload, it creates distractions and detracts from their ability to fully concentrate on their traffic," Bob D'Addario was quoted as saying in the release. "While the loss of the interface is not, in and of itself, a safety issue, any time you create unnecessary workloads on the controller, you do reduce the margin of safety available." Last week, NATCA said there serious problems with the STARS system in Boston.