NATCA, FAA Spar Over Maintenance

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the FAA is planning to let equipment fail before it gets any service attention but the FAA says the union is trotting out an old issue that it's already dealt with. NATCA issued a press release on Tuesday suggesting the FAA was abandoning the established practice of preventive maintenance on its equipment in favor of a "fail and fix" regimen. "By waiting until a potentially dangerous failure occurs, this new agency policy directly threatens passenger safety and is the latest example of the agency's mismanagement, which is reducing the reliability and integrity of the system by cutting corners," the press release reads. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the Professional Airways Systems Specialists had already brought up the issue last March. He said the new maintenance system is simply a much-needed update to bring maintenance work in line with modern technology. "The one thing [NATCA President] John Carr and I agree on in this is that the maintenance practices haven't changed in four decades," Martin said. He said much of the maintenance work is now geared toward software issues and systems have advanced diagnostic programs built in to let technicians know when and where there's a problem. He said the old system of scheduled maintenance at "arbitrary intervals" doesn't work in modern circumstances. He also pointed out that fully functioning equipment had to be shut down for the scheduled maintenance, thus potentially disrupting operations. "Maintenance ought to be more tied to the operational capacity of the system rather than arbitrary maintenance intervals," Martin said. Carr said it's ironic the FAA wants to maintain its own equipment that way but it strictly enforces maintenance intervals on aircraft operators.