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RDU Air-Traffic Controllers, FAA At Dispute Over Radar System, Salary

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Air-traffic controllers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport said Wednesday that an outdated radar system is putting the public in danger, and they blamed the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to update the equipment.

RDU was scheduled to receive a ground-radar system called ASDE-X. But FAA officials said those plans are now up in the air because the agency is giving priority to airports with higher traffic volume, including Charlotte, Atlanta, Louisville, Miami, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. Plans to install ground-radar systems at airports in Tampa, Colorado Springs, Austin, Indianapolis and Reno also have been delayed, they said.

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    RDU is the 39th busiest airport in the country and has 240 daily departures.

    Air-traffic controllers said that kind of volume during periods of low visibility requires a ground-based radar system to prevent collisions on the runway. There have been two close calls at RDU since 2002, they said.

    Right now, RDU uses radar only when planes are in the air.

    "I believe there is a possibility there could be an accident, especially during periods of low visibility when this [ground-based radar] system would nullify the chances of that," air-traffic controller John Brown said. "I think it all boils down to a mismanagement of funds."

    But FAA officials said salary demands by air-traffic controllers have slowed the installation of the ground-based radar system. They said salaries for air-traffic controllers have risen 68 percent in five years.

    FAA officials added that periods of low visibility was not an issue because it was a concern only three or four times a year.

    The amount of traffic RDU receives may also be debatable because RDU has fewer flights today than it did a few years ago when Midway Airlines was still in operation, FAA officials said.

    Officials with RDU said they did not have a position on the situation, but they added that the FAA was in the process of negotiating its contract with the air-traffic controllers union.


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