Investigation Determining If Managers Covered Up Or Misreported
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,
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
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
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.