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NATCA Reaction to FAA Admitting Cover-Up of Operational Errors at Dallas-Fort Worth Tracon - (4/24/2008)

CONTACTS: Doug Church, NATCA National Office, 301-346-8245; Darrell Meachum, NATCA Southwest Regional VP, 817-797-6083

WASHINGTON – The following is a statement by NATCA President Patrick Forrey, responding to today’s Federal Aviation Administration admission that a report by the Department of Transportation Inspector General revealing an intentional misclassification of operational errors at Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) is accurate:

“This is a classic cover-up by FAA management, which is desperate to hide information from the public at all costs. We are grateful to these government investigators for exposing the truth about the true extent of safety problems at Dallas TRACON. While we won’t know what the IG report will detail until it is released, we expect it to underline and support many of the items NATCA and other entities have asserted concerning the FAA’s inability to address the aviation system’s problems; many of which the FAA directly caused or created. “The genesis of this investigation was an allegation that FAA management was misclassifying controller errors as pilot errors, known as pilot deviations. Let me make this point perfectly clear: We are talking about an FAA management cover-up here. Air traffic controllers, whom NATCA represents, are not in a position to classify any pilot deviation, operational error, or operational deviation. Controllers report any suspected losses of separation between aircraft and FAA management then determines responsibility. Any error FAA management misclassified was first identified for investigation by a controller who was doing their job.

“The aviation system is cracking under the weight of the FAA’s many recent and highly publicized management failures. NATCA, in concert with other organizations, has been raising the alarm for some time.” Added Forrey: “NATCA is not surprised that FAA management at DFW TRACON went to such lengths to hide errors. The staffing at this facility is atrocious and dangerously unsafe. It is inadequate to ensure the highest safety margin. There is a clear correlation between falling staffing levels and the FAA’s desperation to hide or reclassify a rising number of errors in an attempt to conceal the true safety risk. There are currently just 57 fully trained and certified controllers at DFW TRACON. That is down from 99 in January 2006 and the 80 that were on staff in January 2007. At least four of the current fully trained and certified controllers will retire by September. There are 22 trainees on board but nine have not certified on any of the radar positions in the facility. “Overtime is an epidemic at this facility because of the low staffing numbers. That has forced FAA management to cut corners and even violate longstanding air regulations on maximum work hours. For example, on April 17, one controller was forced to work over the limit of 10 hours on a shift. The same thing happened just yesterday.”

From Dallas, this is the reaction of NATCA Southwest Regional Vice President Darrell Meachum, who represents the controllers at DFW TRACON:

“In the past, we were proud to work for the FAA. That sentiment has changed. Recent examples of FAA mismanagement and mistreatment of employee whistleblowers underscore the fact that the FAA has lost its way and its credibility when it comes to air safety. This once great aviation safety agency has become 'FEMA with Wings.'”

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