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Sun, Nov 19, 2006

FAA: NATCA Assigned Crash Blame Before Report Released

Says Let NTSB Investigate To Determine Cause

A statement earlier this week from NATCA -- saying the FAA's decision to cut staffing at TRACONS and shift approach control duties to Indy center may have contributed to two crashes -- has been called into question by the FAA.

Local NATCA reps at the Terre Haute TRACON said the FAA has cut staffing at its facility. With a procedural change requiring at least two controllers on duty at all times, NATCA says manning doesn't allow the facility to remain open at night. When it closes, responsibility for approach control duties passes to Indianapolis center.

Twice in the past year aircraft making night approaches under Indy center control have crashed. NATCA says that's not a coincidence.

FAA Great Lakes Region spokesman Tony Molinaro disputes the claim. He's questioned why NATCA is assigning blame before the NTSB accident reports are complete. Those reports are likely months away.

Molinaro told IndyStar.com, "The NTSB is the sole organization that can determine cause. Let the NTSB do their work."

NATCA maintains that local controllers have a more intimate knowledge of the procedures and pitfalls for the area they work. It says center controllers, while trained to provide approach services, can't give the job the care it needs when their attention is divided between approach and enroute traffic.

The FAA says its Indianapolis controllers are well-trained and perfectly capable of handling approach duties at night. The agency says it handed night approach duties to Indy center because of light overnight air traffic. Before the procedural change Terre Haute's TRACON controllers handled just two planes per midnight shift.

The FAA has been jousting with NATCA for several years over staffing and pay issues. Indeed, many organizations that work with or for the FAA are concerned as the current funding mechanism for the FAA runs out next year. Many are scrambling to ensure any new FAA funding initiatives don't take a bite of their slice of the pie.

AOPA Spokesman Chris Dancy wouldn't comment on the specifics of the two crashes in question, but he did say, "Local knowledge is an added benefit, but the controllers at another facility are equally as skilled."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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