Air Traffic Controls Modernized

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said Wednesday that he is confident in the progress being made after the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled its multibillion dollar air traffic control computer network.

The state-of-the-art DSR system is the cornerstone for the eventual modernization of 20 air traffic control centers across the country, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.

"We have an FAA administrator, Jane Garvey, who is results-oriented. She has the full team at FAA involved. We're working very closely with the industry," Slater said.

The system will mean more direct flights and fewer delays, said Garvey. "It means more reliability, and of course, ultimately, it means a much safer system."

Slater said the host system, which is the heart of the air traffic control system, will be employed by the end of the year.

"We're making a strong case to the Congress right now to reauthorize our FAA legislation giving us the kinds of resources we need," Slater said. "The president has said the transportation safety is the No. 1 transportation priority."

Slater said his department remains dedicated to improving airline safety.

"We made a commitment, a public commitment, to reduce the incidence of accidents, crashes, if you will, by 80% over a decade," Slater said. "We're going to achieve that goal starting with last year when we had no crashes involving U.S. commercial air carriers."

The equipment upgrade is long overdue, according to industry insiders.

Air traffic controller Jack Fader said aging equipment was prone to failure and difficult to repair. "Something as simple as the buttons we pushed, they no longer made them. Even some of the lights that illuminated these buttons in our work stations, they no longer made them."

Controller Harold Whitehead said radar outages weren't uncommon with the old system. "What we gain is more reliability with the system itself," he said.

DSR is only the beginning of the FAA modernization. Enhanced weather displays are already planned, as well as email links between controllers and pilots. "We are taking a building-block approach," Garvey said.

Slater said his department is examining the potential effects of the year 2000 problem on the computer system. He said he hopes to complete that work by March.

The individual systems and the system as a whole then will be tested, Slater explained. "We hope to have everything in place, really, by June...We then test for the remainder of the year the functionality of the system. We will meet the goal."