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FAA Promises to Move Fast on Advanced Radar

September 19, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration promised Wednesday to move expeditiously to put advanced Doppler radar into major airports to better detect dangerous microburst wind shears, but officials said they doubt such devices would be available before 1989.

Neal Blake, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for engineering, told a House hearing that the fiscal 1987 budget will include money for procurement of Doppler radar prototypes designed for use at airports.

But asked during a break in the hearing when he would expect the first such radar systems to be available for general use, Blake said probably no earlier than 1989, ″assuming that we go ahead on an expeditious manner.″

Scientists for several years have acknowleged that the Doppler technology is capable of providing advance warning of a microburst wind shear, which has been linked to numerous aviation accidents, including the crash Aug. 2 of a Delta Air Lines jetliner at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The FAA has hoped to quicken the pace of developing the Dopplers for airports by using the technology already developed as part of a much broader Dopper weather radar project called Nexrad, Blake said.

But several members of Congress criticized the Reagan administration Wednesday for not moving quickly enough on the Nexrad project and said that the Office of Management and Budget appears to be interested in scaling the program down.

″To the extent Nexrad is slowed down, there will be direct impact on the terminal Doppler radar development program and hence, the safety of airplane passengers,″ said Rep. Norman Mineta, D-Calif., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee.

Mineta and Blake testified before two subcommittees of the House Science and Technology Committee that are examining the FAA’s programs to deal with the wind shear problem.

A microburst wind shear, which often occurs during thundershowers, is a sudden downdraft of wind, usually confined to a small area. It is particularly treacherous to aircraft as they are about to land or take off because it can literally push a jetliner into the ground.

John McCarthy of the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has been studying wind shears, told the hearing that Doppler radar is the best means of detecting such shears and should be installed at major airports as quickly as possible.

″Most of the scientists have been advocating Doppler radar at airports for three years,″ McCarthy said in an interview.

While Blake agreed that Doppler radar provides the best means of radar detection, he said additional research is needed before it will be ready for airport use. Two Doppler radar systems are being used in tests at Memphis and Denver.

Meanwhile, the FAA is going ahead with installing more conventional wind shear detection devices - called Low-Level Wind Shear Alert Systems - at additional airports. The devices are already at 59 airports and will be installed at 110 within two years, officials said.

McCarthy said, however, that these devices, which use a series of sensors to measure changes in wind direction along runways, allow many dangerous microburst to ″slip through″ undetected.

Wind shear alert systems were in place at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport when the Delta jetliner crashed Aug. 2 as well as at the New Orleans airport when a microburst caused the crash of a Pan American World Airways jetliner July 9, l982.

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