- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Federal Aviation Administration, in another round of revelations about safety lapses, said today that air traffic controllers in Dallas sometimes blamed their own mistakes on pilots.

FAA officials called a press conference to announce they are changing their supervision practices for air traffic controllers nationwide as a result of the improper error reporting at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“Most of them were on the minor side, but not all of them,” Hank Krakowski, the FAA’s chief operating officer for air traffic, said about the reporting errors.

They most often consisted of airplanes flying with inadequate separation between them.

One of them involved an airplane crossing the path of another plane without air traffic controllers telling either pilot of the approaching aircraft.

Under new procedures announced today, managers at local air traffic control stations would no longer have authority to assign the blame for errors in reports to the FAA. Instead, it would be turned over to an independent group within the FAA that gives the reports directly to the agency’s head of aviation safety.

The FAA is introducing new technology at airports nationwide to monitor air traffic control errors. The first computerized system is scheduled to be installed in Dallas later this year and at all other U.S. airports by the end of 2009.

The system would “take some of the judgment calls” out of reporting flight errors, Mr. Krakowski said.

The agency also is introducing a self-reporting procedure that allows air traffic controllers to report their own mistakes without risk of penalty.

“It will help to remove a punitive safety culture,” Mr. Krakowski said.

FAA officials announced the remedial measures in response to a Transportation Department inspector general’s report released yesterday that described air traffic control problems in Dallas.

The inspector general’s safety audit said the reporting errors were found primarily at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, but other airports were more accurate.

About 25 percent of the Dallas reports categorized errors incorrectly, compared with a national average of 3 percent, according to the FAA.

A manager and assistant manager at the Dallas air traffic control station were reassigned to administrative duties in January pending a Justice Department Office of Special Counsel investigation.

“We’re not going to stand for this,” said Robert Sturgell, the FAA’s acting administrator.

The agency is reviewing its air traffic control error reporting procedures to determine whether more changes are needed to ensure safety.

The announcement of air traffic control errors follows by two weeks congressional hearings into aircraft inspection lapses at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Reports that Southwest Airlines was allowed to fly dozens of airplanes as much as 30 months past their required inspection dates prompted to the FAA to change the way it supervised inspectors.

Field office managers no longer have discretion to accept reports from airlines about safety problems they corrected themselves. Instead, the managers must supervise follow-up inspections and sign the paperwork before filing it with a centralized FAA computer system.

Safety lapses about the inspections, as well as the air traffic control reporting errors, were revealed by FAA whistleblower employees.

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