Equipment failure causes flight delays
RENO – Officials at Reno-Tahoe International Airport demanded answers Wednesday after new, high-tech equipment designed to keep the airport open in poor weather failed, causing five flight diversions and a ripple of delays.
“This is completely and absolutely unacceptable,” said airport spokesman Brian Kulpin. “The FAA has a lot to answer for.”
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle confirmed that the Mark 20A instrument landing system went down around 5:40 p.m. Tuesday.
The system is operated and maintained by the FAA.
“We got people in there almost right away,” said FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer. “They’re trouble shooting it, trying to figure out the problem.
“The bottom line is it can’t be fixed with off-the-shelf technology,” he said. “They have to bring in specialists with the right parts.”
The equipment was working by Wednesday afternoon, but airport officials were still “running down this issue in Washington because we want to be sure it will be up and running in perpetuity,” Kulpin said.
“We are asking them to baby-sit the unit during the busy President’s Day weekend because snow is on the way and we have too big of economic impact on the area,” especially Sierra ski resorts, he said.
Kulpin said FAA officials indicated there had been “some type of wiring issue” that caused the malfunction.
“They were doing maintenance on it (Tuesday) and never got it back up and running then failed to communicate to us that it was not running. The FAA did not tell us,” he said.
Airport operations had resumed early Wednesday without the equipment in use when visibility cleared and “visual sight” conditions returned.
Instrument landing systems aid pilots approaching the airport during storms and in low visibility, providing altitude and left-to-right instrumentation guidance.
The $2 million equipment at the Reno airport was installed last year and unveiled just before the Thanksgiving Day holiday travel rush. It replaced older equipment that had failed five times in the previous four years. Two of those failures occurred in November 2004, stranding thousands of passengers and causing the delay or cancellation of 154 flights.
Kulpin said the Reno system is the same one used at airports in other heavy snow regions, including Chicago, Buffalo, N.Y., Minneapolis, Minn. and Fargo, S.D.
Reno received about two inches of snow overnight.
“There’s no reason it shouldn’t operate in snow, let alone two inches,” Kulpin said. “We’re not talking major snow here.
“It’s a brand new system. The people deserve better,” he said.
Kulpin said the diverted flights Tuesday night created a domino effect of delays Wednesday, as planes that otherwise would have been ready to depart from Reno were not available.
It was not immediately known how many flights were affected, he said.
Kenitzer said the FAA takes responsibility.
“It is a brand new system and that is unfortunate. But things do happen,” he said. “Whether it’s snow related, it would be suspect.”
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