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Union: D.C. radar glitch hides planes

FAA denies problem, dismisses warning as negotiating tactic

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Air traffic controllers are embroiled in contract negotiations with the FAA.

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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An air traffic controllers union Thursday warned that a software glitch renders some planes flying over the nation's capital temporarily "invisible" to radar, but the Federal Aviation Administration dismissed the warning as a tactic in contract talks.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a news release that the problem has occurred dozens of times and led to flight delays at Washington Dulles International Airport.

"We are calling on the FAA to take emergency action," said Tim Casten, an air traffic controller in the Washington, D.C., area and a representative for the union.

The controllers association said that a tag with data on each plane stays on screen but shows the location inaccurately.

The disappearance from the scope occurs for varying lengths of time, according to the controllers association. The union cited an "extreme" example in which a controller couldn't locate a plane's trajectory for an 80-mile stretch.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the error has occurred in different air traffic centers and is affecting less than 30 percent of the area handled. He said it is caused by atmospheric conditions and work being done on communication relays.

"Ground radar from time to time is subject to interference from outside sources," Martin said. "There's nothing wrong with the radar. There's nothing wrong with the relays. Planes aren't disappearing. There's still information on the screen."

Martin said controllers know where the planes are, as do the pilots, because they are flying programmed routes. When the glitch occurs, the FAA directs planes to different altitudes or flight paths for safety.

Martin said that the union's complaint was a negotiating tactic. The FAA and union are embroiled in contract negotiations that will determine pay and work rules for controllers and other safety employees.

CNN's Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.

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