Oakland Center Controllers Resort To Cell Phones


Landline and radio communications at Oakland Center both failed for several minutes Wednesday morning, leaving controllers to orchestrate via cellphone with surrounding facilities to separate aircraft over the large area for which the center is responsible. Now, controllers are asking why. The outage, which lasted for at least 15 minutes between what the FAA said was 8:12 and 8:27 a.m., drove more than half the controllers at the facility to mobile phones as their communication relay in what is actually part of the FAA’s contingency plans for such an outage. During the outage both Oakland Center and airport tower controllers worked without the normal amount of data they use to keep traffic moving efficiently. Both the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said the outage was likely caused by unnamed subcontractors. The failure seems to have occurred after the subcontractors put the system on a backup line while working on a problem with the main lines. Controllers were not made aware of any changes and a portion of the backup system failed. After its controllers delayed five flights, denied access to Oakland Center’s airspace for any additional aircraft, and managed to keep all other aircraft properly separated, NATCA had some questions for the FAA.

In a news release, Friday, NATCA asked the FAA why the maintenance of critical systems were left in the hands of subcontractors instead of maintained within the FAA. They also wanted to know why air traffic controllers weren’t made aware, in advance, that the system’s redundancy would be eliminated.