- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Federal Aviation Administration has reached a settlement with an air traffic controller who said he was retaliated against for warning that a takeoff and landing procedure in Memphis, Tenn., had led to near midair collisions.

The FAA agreed Dec. 4 to return Peter Nesbitt to air traffic control duties and transfer him to Austin, Texas, at the same salary, and to pay his relocation and legal expenses, said Leslie Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistleblower complaints.

Mr. Nesbitt, who has more than 20 years of experience as a controller, had asked to return to the control tower at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where he had worked before taking a job at the Memphis International Airport control tower.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown confirmed an agreement had been reached but declined to comment further.

In September, the special counsel’s office sent letters to Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters saying the FAA didn’t adequately respond to complaints from Mr. Nesbitt and other air traffic controllers about the potential for collisions involving planes taking off and landing on runways with intersecting flight paths at airports in Memphis and Newark, N.J.

There is a “substantial likelihood” that conditions at the two airports “create a substantial and specific danger to public safety,” the letters said. The special counsel’s office also requested that the Transportation Department’s inspector general investigate the safety accusations.

DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel hasn’t yet reported the results of that investigation.

Mr. Nesbitt complained he was retaliated against by FAA managers after he sent letters about safety concerns to the National Transportation Safety Board and Congress, and filed a report to a confidential aviation safety reporting database maintained by NASA.

He was removed from air traffic control duties, assigned to office work and ordered to take part in a remedial training program for controllers, Ms. Williamson said.

The FAA eventually agreed to new procedures at Memphis, spacing aircraft farther apart.

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