Traffic controllers protest ASDE-X cuts

Budget cuts are threatening the deployment of runway safety technology, members of an air traffic controllers union said today.

The equipment at stake is Airport Surface Detection Equipment-Model X (ASDE-X), which provides air traffic controllers with an all-weather, seamless airport surface surveillance system that uses radar and a process of determining a target location in two or three dimensions called multilateration. Federal Aviation Administration officials are behind schedule in deploying the technology, and only 15 of 34 mid-level airports slated to get the technology will have it by 2007, members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.

FAA officials have cut their planned expenditures for ASDE-X in fiscal 2004 to $103.9 million from the $115.2 million originally planned, according to the union. And they now plan to spend $50.8 million for fiscal 2005, down from earlier plans for $59.7 million.

"This just does not make any sense whatsoever," said Doug Fralick, director of safety and technology at the association.

The budget moves will not affect safety, said Rebecca Trexler, FAA spokeswoman. The aviation administration has alreeady deployed the Airport Movement Area Safety System, which issues an audible warning to traffic controllers if planes are too close, Trexler said.

"Technology is not the only solution for runway safety," she said. "The agency is working hard on outreach and education, which are the primary solutions for this issue."

Aviation officials say they will meet their fiscal 2004 target for category A and B runway incursions, or incidents in which planes come too close to each other, or to other objects on the ground. The ASDE-X technology is already in Milwaukee, is being testing in Providence and has been delivered to seven other sites. The FAA has experienced only 27 of 39 allowed incursions for fiscal year 2004. "Our performance goal is on track," FAA Spokesperson Frazer Jones said.

ASDE-X is a multisensor surveillance system that gathers data from surface radar on air traffic control towers or remote towers, the terminal-automation system, and multilateration sensors located throughout the airport. ASDE-X fuses this data to produce a color map that tracks aircraft and vehicles moving on airport surfaces as well as aircraft that are approaching runways and taxiways.

In coming months, enhanced ASDE-X will provide automatic audio and visual alerts when it detects potential collisions. This is useful when controllers cannot see from the towers due to clouds or fog.

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