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Wed, Sep 20, 2006

Lexington Tower Manager Called 'Renegade' In Emails

Had Violated FAA Mandates For Staffing Two Controllers

The day after the Lexington, KY plane disaster last month, high-ranking officials with the FAA were discussing the air traffic tower chief, labelling him a "renegade" and debating whether he would be fired for having scheduled only one controller the morning of the accident.

The Associated Press reported that the FAA's Eastern and Western terminal services directors discussed the decision by Blue Grass Airport tower manager Duff Ortman to staff the "mid" [overnight] shift with only one controller. As ANN reported, the FAA previously issued a directive that there should be two controllers on duty at all times, but the order was routinely ignored by towers around the country.

"Just FYI that despite the mandate ... to have two people work the separate positions on the mids -- the Lexington manager was only scheduling one person on the Saturday to Sunday morning mids," Eastern director John McCartney wrote to his West and Central colleagues. "Would have been good for that to be shared with the Hub manager. No factor in the accident but -- the (air traffic manager) is accountable for his decision."

McCartney also wrote that he was trying to verify there were "no other renegades left and not staffing the mids."

A little over an hour later, Western terminal director John Clancy responded that Ortman "will probably be removed as manager of the facility," according to the AP report.

"We know there are many cases of understaffing around the country," said Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association, the union that represents rank-and-file controllers. "It's unfortunate the FAA appears to be more interested in finger-pointing than coming up with a solution."

Comair Flight 5191 was cleared to take off from runway 22, but instead departed from the much shorter runway 26 around 6:00 am on August 27. The CRJ-100 struck trees on take off and crashed, with the loss of 49 lives. Only the co-pilot, who was the pilot flying, survived.

Much speculation has centered on whether or not having an extra controller in the tower cab might have averted the disaster. Since then, the FAA mandate for two controllers on duty has been vigorously enforced.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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