Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Four commercial passenger flights re-routed solely as test for ATC trainee

NATCAThe National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union for air traffic controllers in the United States, blew the whistle yesterday on an FAA Supervisor at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center who ordered several controllers to issue new routes to four flights "for the purpose of generating more traffic for a trainee undergoing a skills check." The incident occurred this past Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008. According to NATCA, the four re-routed commercial passenger flights included a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and two Southwest Airlines Boeing 737s.

Say again??

NATCA says that the new routings issued to four flights around Wilmington, N.C. required the aircraft "to fly in excess of 100 miles further and took them from a routing that was clear of weather and forced them to fly through thunderstorms." According to NATCA, when the Virgin pilot asked for the reason for the re-route, the supervisor ordered the controller to advise the pilot that it was due to weather.

The FAA Supervisor was carrying out a skills check -- that is, observing a trainee to see if he or she is ready to be certified to work that sector without direct supervision by a certified air traffic controller. But NATCA's Jacksonville Center Facility Representative, Dave Cook, said, "While these skills checks are a normal part of the life of a trainee, forcing the airlines to fly further goes against the very grain of the service that air traffic control provides. Forcing air carriers full of passengers to fly through hazardous weather is needlessly endangering people’s lives – and the FAA Supervisor doing so to meet his training requirements is reckless."

The FAA is now looking into the matter, and released the following statement:
The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into whether training of a controller at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hilliard, FL, was conducted in accordance with the agency's strict training guidelines on Saturday afternoon, October. 11. The training involved a developmental controller who was handling flights in a high-altitude sector off the coast of Savannah, GA.

The FAA will determine whether experienced controllers were directed to re-route air carrier flights to generate additional traffic for the trainee, who was undergoing a skills check. The FAA has strict training guidelines which do not permit re-routing flights nor inconveniencing pilots or the flying public.

Our preliminary review indicates that four flights each were re-routed approximately 33 to 50 miles. The flights were not routed into thunderstorms.

The preliminary review also indicates the flights were at an altitude of about 30,000 feet. The re-routes did not result in a loss of separation. Passenger safety was not compromised by the re-routing."
An article published today on a Florida news website,, notes that the FAA Supervisor blamed for the incident has been placed leave while investigators "piece together why four flights were re-routed to reportedly test the skills of a controller-trainee."