WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration is making its second effort in three years to stop its managers in Texas from covering up air safety violations - after a new investigation found the misconduct continued into last year.
In the latest blow to an agency already under fire for letting airlines ignore its safety directives, the FAA yesterday said the top two managers of a Dallas-Fort Worth air traffic control facility have been removed from their jobs.
In addition, the Transportation Department's inspector general found FAA managers in Dallas-Fort Worth routinely and intentionally misclassified instances where airplanes were allowed to fly closer together than they were supposed to, the FAA said. Instead of calling them operational errors or deviations from safety rules by FAA controllers, the managers labeled them pilot errors or nonevents.
"We're not going to stand for this," acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell said.
Hank Krakowski, who became the FAA's chief operating officer in September, acknowledged the FAA had promised to fix the problem in 2005 but "today it's clear to us those commitments were not taken seriously by people in my organization who were responsible." He unveiled a new attempt to remedy the problem.
The FAA only learned of the continuing problem because a whistle-blower - controller supervisor Anne Whiteman, who first reported in 2004 that agency officials were concealing safety violations - came forward again last year to say FAA managers were still underreporting safety violations by FAA controllers or misreporting them as pilot errors.
Transportation's inspector general found that between November 2005 and July 2007, FAA managers at the Dallas-Fort Worth facility misclassified 62 air traffic events as pilot deviations or nonevents when in fact there were 52 operational errors and 10 operational deviations by FAA controllers, the FAA said.
Krakowski said the problem appeared to be confined to the Dallas-Fort Worth facility and several smaller airports nearby. He said a nationwide sampling found only 3 percent misclassifications elsewhere but 25 percent there.
The air traffic controllers' union pounced on the FAA announcement to again say there's a shortage of workers.