All posts by admin

FAA Tower Light Outage Reporting System Unreliable

A new report claims that the FAA’s tower light outage procedure has not only changed to a privatized system, but the new phone system used is dangerously unreliable. In June, Lockheed Martin took over the FAA communications for Southern California, making it necessary to contact their call center in Arizona to report outages. The following text is from Bob Gonsett’s CGC Communicator.

New Procedure for Reporting Tower Outages

(From CGC Communicator #809) According to the FAA, the operations of the Flight Service
Stations have been privatized to Lockheed Martin.  The new
procedure for reporting tower light outages is as follows:

  1. Dial (1) 877-487-6867.
  2. When prompted by the phone tree, say the state where the light outage is occurring.  (If you say “California,” the tree will then ask if you mean northern California or southern California.  Southern California, we are told, means the bottom third of the state including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.)
  3. You should then hear a recording that says, “Please wait while I connect you with a flight briefer.”  You should then be connected with a briefer in Prescott, AZ, where the workers are Lockheed Martin employees and are on duty 24/7. Give the briefer the outage information and they will issue a NOTAM (Notice to All Airmen) advising pilots of the tower light failure.

It would be appreciated if the FCC issued a Public Notice to alert tower owners of the fundamental changes listed above.

Beware: The New FAA Lockheed Martin Phone Tree is Unreliable

The FAA Lockheed Martin phone tree described above has reportedly been in place for about two weeks and is erratic and unreliable.  Callers have trouble getting through.

To test the system, CGC called the 877 number a dozen times on September 17 & 18, 2007.  We always worked our way through the phone tree and were always told to wait for a flight briefer. In five of the test calls, we were connected to a briefer within seconds, and when we immediately called the 877 number again, we got through again.  In the other seven calls, the phone tree put us on hold for about a minute and then disconnected the call. When we called again seconds later, the same thing (disconnect) happened again.  So, sometimes the system works, sometimes it fails.

An FCC employee independently tested the 877 number and agrees that the system is unreliable and in urgent need of repair.  In three FCC attempts to reach a briefer, two failed. However, the mode of the phone tree failure was different from CGC’s experience.  After the “please wait” announcement, the FCC agent waited over 15 minutes, never got disconnected, did get music on hold and announcements, but never got through to a live person.

The 877-487-6867 phone tree is indeed in urgent need of repair because it handles safety-of-life information.  Hopefully the current round of problems will be resolved soon, but Murphy lives and the FAA should consider putting a plain old telephone (POT) on the wall of each of the Lockheed Martin call centers so we have an alternate means of contact.  Just common sense.

Big Catalina Fire Originates at KBRT

(From the CGC Communicator) A fire that started at the KBRT(AM) transmitter plant on Catalina Island near Los Angeles apparently ignited the 4,200- acre wildfire that ravaged the island’s interior and threatened Avalon, the resort’s main town. One home and six industrial buildings were lost but no one was seriously injured. The fire is expected to be fully contained by Tuesday evening.

According to a published report supplemented by information from the island, a tower contractor hired by KBRT had been warned against using a cutting torch because of dry brush fire danger.

While the station’s transmitter engineer, Bill Agresta, was inside the transmitter building and temporarily away from the work site, the contractor used a gasoline-powered circular saw to cut metal, and sparks from the blade apparently ignited the brush.

Bill reportedly said he saw a small blaze when he went outside the transmitter building. Then he ran back inside to call 911.

By the time he went outside again, the fire had moved several hundred feet downhill and engulfed the contractor’s tool truck – the blackened hulk of which remained at the site as of Saturday.

Commercial power and telco lines feeding the “KBRT Ranch” (as the transmitter site is known) were destroyed in the fire. The station resumed operations Sunday using its own power generator and CDs hand-carried to the island for programming. Joel Saxberg is reportedly at the site attempting to set up a Ku-band satellite downlink as an STL, but is said to be having trouble acquiring the satellite. As of 9:30 AM Monday, the station was off the air again, but this time voluntarily until the program feed bugs are resolved.

Meanwhile, Bill Agresta is nursing some fractured ribs suffered when one of the construction workers commandeered his tractor and accidentally ran into him during the fire melee.

Qualcomm Fires Up on Black Mountain

Qualcomm, based in San Diego, has begun transmissions of
its MediaFLO system, which use its experimental licenses on traditional
TV broadcast channels 53 and 59. They plan to eventually occupy channel
55, spectrum purchased as part of the FCC’s reallocation of the 700 MHz
band, channels 52-69, for purposes other than broadcasting.

(Reprinted from CGC Communicator #711:)

An individual familiar with MediaFLO’s operations in San Diego (CGC #710)
reports that Black Mountain and San Miguel Mountain are both on the air
for the purpose of broadcasting to cellphones (or the experimental
phase thereof).  San Miguel has reportedly been on the air since November a year ago, while Black
Mountain was added a few weeks later according to the letter. Mount
Harvard (Los Angeles), Denver and some Boston sites are said to be
completed already.  We are also told that MediaFLO is being looked at
seriously in Europe.

While MediaFLO is authorized to use a number of different TV
channels in San Diego under an experimental grant, the company’s
continued use of Channel 53 is in jeopardy.  XHUPN-DT on Cerro
Bola is
expected to light up on CH-53 soon, at which time MediaFLO will
presumably be required to extinguish its operations on that
channel.  XHUPN is said to be internationally coordinated on CH-53.