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NYC-Area Airports Come to Standstill After Communications Failure

September 18, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Communications failures brought New York’s three big airports to a virtual halt for several hours Tuesday, forcing some flights to be diverted.

AT&T blamed an internal power failure at a Manhattan switching center, that that interrupted long distance telephone calls in and out of the city and some European calls. Initially, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that a fiberoptic cable had been cut. That report proved to be false.

The failure at about 5 p.m. cut off a major communications link between air traffic control centers for Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey, said Diane Spitaliere, an FAA spokeswoman.

Some radar reception was affected. Local air traffic centers could not communicate properly among themselves or with other U.S. airports. And since some FAA facilities have limited radio frequencies, controllers relying on land line relays might not have been able to reach all aircraft, Spitaliere said.

AT&T said communications were being restored around mid-evening. Flights resumed at all three airports by 9 p.m., said D. Joy Faber, a spokesomwan for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports.

Stranded travelers battled frustration over delayed and canceled flights, with many complaining the lack of telephone service complicated their dilemmas because they could not notify family and friends at their destination points.

Christine Alcock, 24, of New York City was heading from La Guardia to San Francisco to visit the object of a budding romance.

″I’m afraid he’ll think I stood him up,″ she said after attempts to telephone him from the airport failed to get through.

″This could be the end of the shortest romance in history,″ she said.

A few flights were diverted to other airports in the Northeast. A British Airways supersonic Concorde had to land at Bradley airport outside Hartford, Conn., said Kirk Kinsella, an airport operations specialist.

Other flights destined for New York were held up at their points of origin, Spitaliere said.

When the problem surfaced, 35 airplanes loaded with passengers were left standing on the tarmac at Kennedy, the same number at LaGuardia, and 30 were backed up at Newark, said Port Authority spokesman Mark Marchese.

Air traffic control centers communicate with planes through a network of radio towers linked to them by phone, said AT&T spokeswoman Claire Diamond.

The regional air traffic control center in New York had radar difficulty, said Tim Jones, a senior operations agent at Newark International Airport.

Fred Farrar, an FAA spokesman in Washington, said the trouble was confined to the New York area.

Bill Malone, spokesman for Philadelphia International Airport, said air traffic was backed up there, but he was unsure how many flights were affected. In Boston, Logan International Airport experienced some delays, as did travelers at San Francisco International Airport.

AT&T said most service was restored by 10 p.m. and it expected long- distance service in the area to be fully restored by Wednesday morning.

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