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Mon, Jun 30, 2008

DOT IG Confirms Chicago ATC Error Probe

Investigation Determining If Managers Covered Up Or Misreported Errors

An investigation into allegations of covered up air traffic control errors by managers at an FAA radar facility controlling traffic in and out of Chicago was confirmed Wednesday by authorities according to the Chicago Tribune.

According to the article, a probe by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general's office is underway focusing on supervisors at the Federal Aviation Administration radar facility in Elgin, IL and if they underreported air safety violations by controllers. The investigation is seeking to determine if the errors were instead blamed on pilots or just simply ignored, officials said.

The errors under investigation involve failure to maintain required spacing for departing and arriving aircraft to Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport, Midway Airport and other area airports.

"We are still doing field work as part of an ongoing audit of the FAA's process for investigating and reporting operational errors," said Madeline Chulumovich, spokeswoman for the transportation department's inspector general.

Chulumovich also confirmed several other FAA facilities across the country would also be investigated as part of the probe.

Controller sources at the Elgin facility downplayed the seriousness of the air-traffic infractions allegedly covered up, but it's too early to know where the investigation might lead.

According to David Stock, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at the Elgin facility, a DOT IG investigator last week told officials there he, after reviewing radar tapes, had found at least three suspicious incidents since 2006 in which supervisors blamed controller errors on pilots.

Stock said one of the violations had gone unnoticed and the other two were extremely minor and had no impact on safety.

Aircraft strayed slightly from prescribed separations of three miles apart horizontally or 1,000 feet vertically, but no danger ever existed according to Stock.

In 2007, the facility reported 40 errors by controllers and another 20 by pilots, according to the FAA.

Stock blamed an institutional lack of concern to permeate the FAA's management ranks in Washington, D.C. for the investigation and coverup allegations.

"FAA management in Washington has the technology to know about every loss of separation in every facility across the country as soon as it occurs," Stock said. "To blame local managers for 'covering up' losses of separation is the height of hypocrisy.

"I believe there are people in Washington who ignore incidents until they have their face rubbed in it by the inspector general," he said. "If that's not a coverup, I'm not sure what is."

FAA officials declined to answer questions about the investigation.

The probe at the Elgin facility is the broadening of a Congress-requested investigation by the inspector general late last year in Dallas-Ft. Worth where it was determined FAA managers routinely misclassified blame when planes controlled by the facility flew too closely together.

The FAA acknowledged in April it had mishandled whistle-blower reports of ATC managers in Dallas-Ft. Worth systematically covering up errors to boost the reported performance of the radar facility.

According to the FAA, managers there had misattributed more than 60 ATC errors to pilot blame or dismissed them as "non-events" between 2005 and 2007.



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