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Sat, Mar 26, 2011

NTSB Recommends Changes In FAA Controller Management Style

Says Supervisory Functions Should Not Be Carried Out While On Duty

In a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, NTSB Chair Debora Hersman recommending that the FAA take action to improve the safety of air traffic control (ATC) operations by prohibiting air traffic controllers from providing supervisory oversight while performing operational air traffic duties. Hersman says NTSB investigations of several events have found ATC staffing scenarios in which the supervisory function was being performed by a controller who was also performing operational duties. In many instances, a sufficient number of personnel were on duty at the time of the events such that another qualified controller could have been designated to supervise; however, ATC management’s decisions concerning staffing utilization resulted in a lack of distinct supervisory oversight, thus diminishing or eliminating the effectiveness of the supervisory role.


NTSB Chair Hersman

Hersman cites examples such as the August, 2009 incident in which a sightseeing helicopter collided with a GA aircraft over the Hudson river, fatally injuring nine people. The airplane had departed Teterboro Airport (TEB) and was receiving radar traffic advisories from the TEB local controller prior to a handoff to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). TEB tower staffing at the time of the midair collision included a developmental controller working the flight data and clearance delivery positions and a local controller working the ground control/arrival radar positions while also acting as controller-in-charge (CIC). Two other controllers, one was qualified as CIC, and a front line manager/supervisor were on break and not in the tower cab. The result of the front line manager’s staffing decision to be on break at the same time as another CIC-qualified controller was that other sources of supervision were potentially available but not utilized.

About 3 minutes before the accident, the TEB local controller initiated a nonpertinent telephone call to airport operations while continuing to provide instructions to the airplane pilot, including a delayed instruction to switch to the EWR tower frequency that the pilot read back incorrectly and the controller did not correct. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was, in part, the Teterboro Airport local controller’s nonpertinent telephone conversation, which distracted him from his air traffic control duties, including correcting the airplane pilot’s read back of the EWR tower frequency and the timely transfer of communications for the accident airplane to the EWR tower. Several other examples are listed in the letter to Babbitt.

Hersman says in the letter that "FAA Order 7210.3, "Facility Operation and Administration,” Section 6, paragraph 2-6-1, “Watch Supervision” states, in part, that “watch supervision requires maintaining situational awareness…of traffic activity and operational conditions in order to provide timely assistance to specialists and…ensure[s] available resources are deployed for optimal efficiency. Watch supervision may be performed by a manager, supervisor, or controller-in-charge."

However, she writes, "despite the intent of Order 7210.3 to provide adequate watch supervision and, in all but one of the events discussed, the availability of sufficient and qualified staff to act in a strictly supervisory role, management staffing decisions resulted in these assets not being used; in the remaining event, a controller was on duty alone during the midnight shift and was therefore responsible for supervising himself. The particular difficulty of supervising oneself is amply demonstrated in most of the events discussed in that the controller committing the error was also acting as CIC. The NTSB concludes that the watch supervision directives in Order 7210.3 are incompatible with effective oversight and that the effectiveness of the supervisory role is reduced when it is performed in combination with operational duties, leading to operational errors, incidents, and accidents."


FAA Administrator Babbitt

Hersman concludes that the NTSB recommends that the FAA "Prohibit air traffic controllers from providing supervisory oversight while performing operational air traffic duties."

FMI: www.ntsb.gov, www.faa.gov

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