RADAR NOT USED FOR SOME LANDINGS
THE SYSTEM AT THE AREA'S INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT REMAINS A PROBLEM, A CONTROLLER
By ANTHONY COLAROSSI; Times Leader Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 1995 Page: 1A
PITTSTON TWP. -- Air traffic controllers at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
International Airport helped land planes without using radar during at least
one half-hour period in recent weeks, Federal Aviation Administration
officials said Friday.
"They were using non-radar procedures to control the traffic," said Arlene
Salac, a spokeswoman for the FAA eastern region headquarters in New York City.
But Salac and airport officials maintained Friday there are no safety
concerns about persistent problems with the airport's radar system.
The use of non-radar flight controls was necessitated by the airport's
chronic radar problems. Those problems reached a head this week. On Thursday
the airport stopped using its main radar antenna -- located about three miles
southeast of the terminal off Suscon Road in Pittston Township.
Darius Reynolds, president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic
Controllers Association, confirmed that his radar screen was having so many
problems picking up planes, he stopped using it Oct. 19.
"I refused to work that radar," Reynolds said. Instead, he used radio
communications with pilots to guide them toward the airport for half an hour.
"During that half-hour period, I had aircraft taking off and aircraft
landing," Reynolds said. "Basically, what you're doing is letting one aircraft
in and one aircraft out."
Reynolds said that the secondary system that normally works in concert with
the main radar was operational and he could have used it but did not trust it.
He said that he and one other controller chose to use non-radar instead while
FAA technicians worked on the main radar. After a half hour, the main radar
was repaired and he returned to it.
Salac said she was aware of only one half-hour period sometime during the
week of Oct. 15-21, when no radar was used to land planes.
But Reynolds said air traffic controllers have landed planes without the
use of radar several times during the last few months.
The airport handles about 1,300 passengers and 40 commercial and private
flights a day.
On Thursday, the airport near Avoca went to a backup radar system,
receiving radar signals from an antenna in Benton, Columbia County, about 40
miles from the airport. As of late Friday, the backup system was still in use.
The Benton antenna is a long-range radar used primarily to guide planes in
and out of regional airspace, FAA officials said. It cannot "see" planes after
they drop below about 3,500 feet. That can be as far as 20 miles from the
airport, Reynolds said.
"It will not see aircraft as low as what a terminal radar would see," said
Selim Haber, the FAA Northeast Region operations branch manager.
Reynolds said the Benton radar does not pick up bad weather like the main
radar. Also, its "sweep," showing the location of aircraft, is slower than the
terminal's system, he said.
"It's better than nothing, but it's not as good as it should be as far as
we're concerned," Reynolds said. "I do not want to alarm anybody. It's a safe
atmosphere ... But is it the safest? No. And I don't think the FAA can argue
"We're on the backup radar. That's the standard procedure," Salac said.
"Safety does not become an issue when you're on a backup system."
"What I've been told is there is no safety problem," said Barry Centini,
the airport director. "The airport, we feel, is operating safely."
But Reynolds said safety is a concern when planes start disappearing from
"Initially, it's mayhem," Reynolds said. "You see them with your eyes on
the radar screen, and then it's gone."
When the radar system starts failing, controllers use pilot reports to
separate planes by altitude and then turn them away from each other, he said.
Controllers have not experienced radar problems since going on the backup
system, Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he heard FAA technicians attribute the problems to a video
compression unit manufactured by Arcata Associates in Las Vegas. The system
transmits information from the radar tower off Suscon Road to the air
Because the Suscon Road radar tower is so remote, an electronic
transmission system -- such as Arcata's -- had to be used instead of a cable,
Arcata's president did not return a message Friday.
Haber said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is the first airport in the FAA's
northeastern region to use the Arcata unit.
"It's not prevalent throughout the United States, but we have installed it
at several (airports)," Haber said.
Technicians have not concluded that the Arcata unit is the source of the
radar problems here, Salac said. But they are reviewing that device, she said.
TIMES LEADER/RICHARD SABATURA
An air traffic controller on Friday works in the tower using a backup radar
system at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
TIMES LEADER/RICHARD SABATURA
The troubled aircraft radar off Suscon Road in Pittston Township stopped
servicing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport on Thursday, forcing
the airport to rely on a backup system in Benton, Columbia County.