System Failure at LAX Causes Air Delays; Reason for Failure Under Investigation

7 August 2006; UPDATE 4:15 ET: Flights into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the world’s fifth busiest airport were disrupted beginning at about 9:20 a.m. PT this morning after an instrument landing system (ILS) failed on Runway 25R. LAX has four runways – two for incoming and two for outgoing flights. Last month, the airport closed one arrival runway for a relocation project. To compensate for the traffic, one of the departure runways was handling both departures and landings. It was that runway that experienced the equipment failure.

The malfunctioning piece of equipment, called a “localizer,” acts as a beacon to guide planes onto arriving runways using an instrument landing system. It is used and considered important during periods of poor visibility, and fog was reported at the airport Monday. Technicians were trying to determine what triggered the problem on the runway on the south side of the airport.

According to Ian Gregor, a FAA spokesman in Washington, “What happened essentially is the ILS (Instrument Landing System) for the inner runway on the airport’s south side went down this morning, and temporarily knocked the airport’s arrival rate down from 56 planes an hour to 32.

Consequently, all departing and arriving flights were delayed, with such delays ranging from several minutes to an hour or more. Two Alaska Airlines flights were diverted to Ontario International Airport because they did not have enough fuel to go into a holding pattern, according to LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles. “The FAA has not given us a reason for the ILS failure or an estimated time when the system will be restored,” added Ms. Castles.

To work around the failure, the airport changed the direction of incoming flights, stated Gregor, who also added that the cause of the problem was unknown.

According to some news reports, most travelers were not aware that a problem existed until they arrived at the airport. Even then, however, no announcements were being made. The presence of helicopters flying overhead and multiple delays posted across nearly all flight screens had many cell phones ringing with calls from anxious family members, some advising the anxiously waiting passengers of the problem. One passenger traveling from LAX to Chicago was interviewed at LAX stated, “I don’t really know what’s going on,” and another traveling to Oakland said “they are not telling anybody anything,”

By 10:45 a.m. PT, air traffic controllers changed the landing configuration and reversed the direction of all flights, so the damaged equipment was not needed. The arrival rate had returned to near normal by 11 a.m. PT.


7 August 2006; [Originally reported at 1:30 p.m. ET]: The Northeast Intelligence Network is investigating reports of all but perhaps one, possibly two runways at LAX have been shut down due to a “catastrophic failure” of computer systems at the air traffic control level, despite the “redundancy” built in to the systems. The cause of the trouble is unknown at this time, although the magnitude of the problem has surprised a number of systems workers.

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