Monday, November 17, 2014

Investigators Exclusive: Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR) runway incursion radar malfunctioning (with video)

NEWARK (WABC) -- An Eyewitness News exclusive investigation looked at safety at one of the nation's busiest airports. A radar system at Newark Liberty International Airport is suppose to prevent collisions on the runway, but too often, it doesn't operate properly. The problem is false alerts. 

The FAA insists the radar, called ASDE-X, is one of many tools air traffic controllers use at Newark to keep planes from colliding. Documents from the control tower and sources show a different view in which a key safety radar is unreliable.

At least 1,000 planes take off or land at Newark Airport daily, and an alarm will alert air traffic controllers when any planes are getting too close. We looked at six months of daily operation logs from the airport's traffic control tower that we obtained that show the collision-prevention radar constantly false alerts.

In one day last May, air traffic controllers recorded that the radar false alerted seven times.

"It does raise the hairs on the back of your neck," retired air traffic controller Mark Reilly said. "A lot of cursing and swearing goes on. It's not a comfortable feeling."

He says the highly-touted runway collision prevention radar has not worked properly from the time the FAA installed it in 2009.

"I know they spent a lot of money on this equipment," he said. "if it's not reliable, don't deploy it, don't put it into place. And if you have, and it's still unreliable, get rid of it."

Complaints about the unreliability of the anti-collision radar fill the daily logs.

"ASDE-X KEEPS SHUTTING DOWN WE ASKED TECH OPS TO SHUT IT DOWN COMPLETELY," and "ASDE-X is O-T-S, out of service, unreliable," are some of the notes from air traffic controllers.

From February through July of this year, the radar failed to work properly 118 out of 181 days.

That lack of reliability may have played a role in the near-miss collision last April at Newark Airport, when an Express Jet taking off and a United Airlines 737 came within 400 feet of colliding.

We're told the radar did alert, but it gave the controller little time to react. The daily log for that day also showed the radar had false alerted just 28 minutes before the close call.

"It's like Peter crying wolf," Reilly said. "You hear it over and over. After a while, you ignore it. When maybe you shouldn't be ignoring it this time."

The FAA blames the false alerts on construction earlier this year. But we are being we're told the radar continues to false alarm.

It's important to note that so far this year, Newark has seen a huge spike in runway incursions, in which planes or vehicles are in the wrong place on the runway.

That's happened 19 times this year, compared to five last year. The FAA also said they have not found any link between an increase in radar alerts and the jump in runway incursions at Newark Airport.

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