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Cover-up Substantiated, FAA Faulted for ‘Dangerous Mismanagement’

Mon, Jan 26, 2009 — David Evans

Briefs, Featured

Senior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) management officials jeopardized air traffic safety by misclassifying events in order to record fewer operational errors and deviations by controllers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), according to a 13 November report by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

The OSC is the agency that investigates whistleblower complaints. According to the OSC:

“FAA management intentionally misclassified events as pilot error in order to avoid attributing operational errors to air-traffic controllers. The report identified 62 air traffic events which were misclassified between November 2005 and July 2007 rather than being correctly identified as operational errors or deviations by controllers. These allegations highlighted a pattern of persistent, dangerous mismanagement at DFW warranting further scrutiny and investigation.”

The “report” referred to by the OSC is a Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT/IG) investigation that found managers “covered-up” air traffic controller operational errors and deviations by:

“(a) misclassifying them as pilot deviations or ‘non-events,’ and (b) failing to investigate and/or report suspected operational errors and deviations. The whistleblower also expressed concern that DFR TRACON [Terminal Radar Approach Control] management’s misclassification of operational errors/deviations may reflect an FAA-wide effort to keep the number of operational errors/deviations artificially low.”

The OIG found that a lack of FAA oversight persisted after a DOT/IG investigation of 2004 and that the problem continued after a second DOT/IG review of April 2008. “This second investigation found that despite FAA’s assurances to the contrary, ATO-Safety [Air Traffic Operation] took little or no action to address these serious safety matters,” the OIG noted.

Of ten corrective actions proposed by the DOT/IG, three stand out as emblematic of the kind if thorough scrubbing that’s needed:

  • Remove the Quality Assurance function at air traffic control facilities from the supervision of the facility management due to the inherent conflict of interest in having the Quality Assurance personnel report to the facility management. (Comment: duh, elementary independent checks and balances.)
  • Conduct a comprehensive review from top-to-bottom of ATO-Safety’s management, staffing and processes to ensure the effective internal oversight of ATO. (Comment: double duh.)
  • Examine the 38 pilot deviations identified in the investigation and rescind any compliance or enforcement actions against the pilots and expunge their records if the deviations are not valid. (Comment: the deviations should be lodged against the particular controller, if that can be determined at this late date. The FAA seems to have been working on the principle of punishing the innocent while the guilty skate.)

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