Eric Barone (left), air traffic controller, training a new air traffic controller, John Stoke (right), in the control tower at Atlantic City International Airport William J. Hughes Tech Center as they guide planes to take off and land. April 21, 2016.
Andrew Elias, union representative at the Atlantic City International Airport William J. Hughes Tech Center, in an air traffic control room for planes that are passing over the area. April 21, 2016.
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The eyes in the sky at Atlantic City International Airport have a new perspective on aircraft flying around the region thanks to a new air traffic control system.
The new equipment offers the approximately 30 air traffic controllers at the airport the ability to look at more layers of weather data and have easier accessibility to other radar systems in the area if the airport’s goes down, said Andrew Elias, air traffic controller and National Air Traffic Controller Association representative at the airport.
In late March, the airport’s Common Automation Radar Terminal System, which was developed in the 1960s, was replaced with the new Standard Terminal Automation System as part of a more than $900 million nationwide project by the Federal Aviation Administration and Raytheon.
Santino Rockelein, air traffic controller, in the control tower at Atlantic City International Airport William J. Hughes Tech Center as he guides planes to take off and land. April 21, 2016.
The new layers of weather data will allow controllers to have additional information when trying to land planes, leading to increased safety.
“The new technology is absolutely amazing, we have information available to us that was not available in the old system,” Elias said. “There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to using this new equipment, but it’s a nice change. A lot of what we do has not changed, but the tools that this system has allows us to see more things.”
If the radar went out under the old system, air traffic controllers had to go through a laundry list of steps to switch to another radar. With the new system, it can be done with the touch of a button, Elias said.
“If you are looking at a score of airplanes and the radar goes out, it is not a good time,” Elias said, adding that every second counts in those types of situations.
Edward Gaguski, Department of Transportation of the Atlantic City International Airport William J. Hughes Tech Center, in front of the old air traffic control system called CARTS as they have switched over to the next generation of the air traffic control system called STAR. April 21, 2016.
The new system, which uses a variety colors on flat panel screens, allows controllers to see all of the airplanes in the area at all times, compared with the old system, which featured a yellow-colored screen and used a rotating radar to track planes.
“We went from having 1950s technology in the radar system to an all digital system,” said Bill West, air traffic control manager at the airport, which has two runways. “The old system was very reliable, but this is more in line with today’s technology. Anytime you upgrade technology you upgrade safety. This gives air traffic controllers more levels of information than the old system.”
The new system, built by Raytheon, was delivered to the tower in July and the controllers trained on it until March, West said.
Christine DeFrank, an air traffic controller at the Atlantic City International Airport William J. Hughes Tech Center, in an air traffic control room for planes that are passing over the area. April 21, 2016.
“Implementation of STARS brings the National Airspace System into a single terminal-area operational system, which provides increased efficiencies in terms of resources, training and maintenance,” said Michael Espinola, managing director at Raytheon Air Traffic Systems, in a prepared statement late last year. “Creating an effective, advanced and streamlined system, all while maintaining outstanding safety standards, is a key goal of the FAA's Next Gen initiative.”
The testing of the new equipment started in 2012, said Ed Gaguski, director of Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement and the STARS Operational Test at the William J. Hughes Technical Center.
“We bring in air traffic controllers and others who work in the field for two to three weeks to run tests on the program’s systems,” Gaguski said. “If we do find a problem, we run that problem here and find a fix for it.”
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