September 30, 2008

Air Traffic Union Fights `Frivolous’ FAA Probe


The air traffic controllers union says the FAA launched a "frivolous" investigation because a senior executive was miffed after her AirTran flight into Boston received a "go-around" order from the air traffic control tower.

The plane, which was about a half-mile from landing, was forced to circle the airport before touching down so that an arriving US Airways plane could first exit a runway.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is embroiled in a contract dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration, says the agency forced the shutdown of Logan's airport movement area safety system for 15 minutes on both Sept. 3 and 4 so it could review the controller's decision even after a supervisor deemed it the right response.

"This was a frivolous, pointless investigation that ended up jeopardizing the safety of the airfield by taking away a critical piece of equipment that helps us prevent runway incidents by sounding alarms in the tower if evasive action to stop a collision is required," said Matthew McCluskey, president of the union's Boston local.

But the FAA, which found no wrongdoing by the controller, said it was conducting routine follow-up after its executive - in a regular meeting with the FAA's regional management team - described what occurred and said the pilot made it sound like a serious incident.

"There was no formal investigation," spokeswoman Laura Brown said. "(Runway safety director Wes Timmons) generally gets alerted when there's a serious issue with the system, and he didn't hear about this. This was an effort to understand what happened."

Timmons, in Boston for the regional meeting, had the control tower pull the radar data, she said. That required the temporary shutdown of the radar system, which the FAA also took off-line the previous day so an incident report could be sent to Washington.

- [email protected]

Originally published by By DONNA GOODISON.

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