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Newark Controller Files for Whistleblower Protection; ALPA Supports Controllers' Work To Help Pilots With Airspace Changes - (7/10/2008)

NEWARK, N.J. – Veteran Newark Tower air traffic controller Ray Adams is striking back against harsh intimidation and retaliation tactics used by the Federal Aviation Administration to try and silence both his safety concerns and that of his co-workers regarding procedures for departures and flight paths hastily implemented earlier this year as part of airspace redesign efforts rushed into use without controller involvement.

Adams has filed for federal whistleblower protection with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. His becomes the 36th whistleblower complaint filed by FAA employees this fiscal year, as reported Wednesday by The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. There were just 11 last year.

At issue is Adams’ courageous insistence on doing his job, ensuring pilots’ safety by providing the most complete information to pilots departing Newark as they received last-minute and unpublished route changes due to FAA failures. But local management and supervisors suspended Adams after an incident in February in which he dared to ask a pilot if they understood the new heading they were assigned. After attempting to answer questions, the supervisor ordered Adams to "just clear them for takeoff.” This despite the fact that the FAA has taped evidence of many pilots telling controllers in the tower – while waiting to take off – that they do not understand the new procedures.

“As its incompetence continues to mount and the system continues to deteriorate, the FAA’s only outlet is to retaliate against its own employees who are ultimately responsible for the safety of the skies,” NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. “We are fed up with this activity and have begun acting upon ways to hold these officials accountable for this abuse of authority and continual harassing behavior."

The Air Line Pilots Association defended controllers’ actions to do everything possible to ensure that pilots had the most complete understanding of the new airspace changes, headings and procedures.

“ALPA is deeply concerned about any attempt to prevent full and open communications between controllers and pilots,” ALPA President Capt. John Prater said. “Pilots need complete understanding of an air traffic controller’s directions to provide safe separation, especially when the planned procedure is modified at a critical phase of flight."

The February incident with Adams occurred in the same week as FAA Spokesman Jim Peters, in published comments, said if Philadelphia controllers – who also have helped pilots contend with confusing new departure headings and procedures – believe the procedures are unsafe, “they should look for work elsewhere."

During a press event that week Congressman Joe Sestak, D-Pa., denounced Peters’ comments. “The recent remarks attributed to Jim Peters demonstrate once again that the FAA is a rogue agency. The idea that professionals who have concerns about safety should ‘find another line of work’ is an outrage. Everywhere in our society - from the military to hospitals to mines to food processing facilities - responsible organizations emphasize safety first and reward professional employees who identify safety deficiencies."

In spite of the FAA's recent promise to Congress to involve controllers in the next phase of the redesign implementation, which goes into effect on July 31, the agency has still not briefed Newark's controller workforce on the pending changes.  

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