2 Power Outages Disrupt Air Traffic Communications


Two power outages Monday night left Orange County air traffic controllers at Coast Terminal Radar Control “in the dark” and without communication with incoming and outgoing aircraft for nearly two hours, officials said.

Coast Tracon, which regulates air traffic from the ground to 13,000 feet, has a jurisdiction extending from Torrance to Oceanside and from El Toro to Santa Catalina Island, excluding air traffic within a 5-mile radius of airports. That area is regulated by an airport’s own tower.

When the power shut off and backup generators failed to operate at Coast Tracon, an “emergency contingency plan” went into effect, with air traffic controllers in Palmdale taking over air traffic communications for the area and talking to pilots, said Art Morriston, regional duty officer for the Federal Aviation Administration.


Although the transition went smoothly and there were no reported air traffic problems, controllers at Coast Tracon, located at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, said they were rattled by the incident.

“This potentially could have been catastrophic,” said air traffic controller Fred Lebhart. “Luckily, it happened at a period of light traffic and fairly good weather conditions. . . . If we had a lot of traffic and planes were traveling 400 or 500 m.p.h. and descending, it could have been a different story.”

Coast Tracon, the regional radar facility for most of Southern California, has been a subject of controversy for several years because of controller errors and poor working conditions. Lebhart said that although working conditions have improved since a “major renovation” about a year ago, problems still exist.

“This is a continuing problem,” said Lebhart of the outages. “But this is the first time it’s happened to this extent.”

Lebhart, the facility representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn., said that during one of the outages, two flights of troops arriving at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station from the Middle East had to be delayed.

“They may have been diverted. We’re not sure yet,” he said shortly after the facility regained power.

After Monday’s 18-minute power outage at 7:29 p.m., another outage occurred at 8:10 p.m. and lasted until 9:36 p.m. The emergency plan again went into effect, officials said.

There was no immediate explanation for what caused either outage, officials said.

Lebhart said departures at John Wayne Airport were delayed after the outages.

Officials at John Wayne Airport could not be immediately reached for comment.