NATCA Says Report Should Be "Wake Up Call"
week, the Inspector General's office for the Department of
Transportation completed its review of staffing at FAA radar
approach control and radar-equipped tower facilities, in response
to Congressional requests in the aftermath of the Comair 5191 crash
last August in Lexington, KY. The DOT found the FAA's oral (but
unwritten) guidance to provide two controllers in the Blue Grass
tower was "misinterpreted" and "inconsistently applied."
"FAA issued verbal guidance in August 2005 -- a year prior to
the [Lexington] crash -- reiterating that two controllers should be
on duty during midnight shifts at facilities with both radar and
tower functions," said a written DOT statement. "Since the Comair
accident, FAA has formalized the verbal guidance into a written
order which was, in our opinion, an appropriate and necessary
"We recommended that FAA: (1) communicate changes in air traffic
policies in writing to ensure uniform implementation and
compliance; and (2) develop and implement appropriate policies and
procedures to ensure that facilities are complying with provisions
of the new order. FAA concurred with our recommendations and is
taking appropriate actions to address them," the DOT added (the
full 23-page report is available for download at the FMI link below
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) --
which has argued FAA staffing levels are woefully inadequate for
the volume of traffic controllers are tasked with -- said the IG
report should be "a wakeup call" to the FAA to increase staffing
levels above what the union considers budget-mandated numbers.
"The IG’s report very clearly confirms that it took a
disaster for the FAA to get around to making sure its facilities
were complying with its own order on proper staffing," NATCA told
ANN. "The urgency with which the Agency acted after the crash to
ensure proper midnight shift staffing should have been done
immediately after the Raleigh-Durham incident in 2005. That was the
time to act. Not after people lost their lives. That’s too
"This is why NATCA is so firmly committed to speaking out
against the terribly unsafe staffing levels in place today at
facilities all over the country, especially considering the FAA has
just announced a new controller workforce plan that is three years
too late... The Agency has thrown out longstanding safe staffing
levels at every facility and replaced them with a manufactured
"range" of budget-based staffing levels that slashes between nine
and 26 percent of the amount of controllers needed to properly
staff towers and radar facilities."
NATCA also noted it is "disturbing" the IG found the midnight
shift at Lexington was staffed with only one controller for 11.1
percent of the shifts the agency reviewed.
"That meant the Agency could only guarantee the safety of the
system on these shifts 89 percent of the time," NATCA stated. "In
our profession, an 89 percent proficiency rate not only gets you
fired, it unnecessarily puts safety at risk."
As ANN has reported, only one
controller was in the tower at Lexington the morning of August 27,
2006 -- when the Comair regional jet took the wrong runway at
Bluegrass Airport, and attempted to take off from a runway of
insufficient length for the loaded CRJ.