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Old 10-14-2008, 08:39 PM   #1  
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Default FAA investigates actions of traffic controllers

Assuming this did happen as described, would not a pilot at least ask why they are being told to go so many miles away? I would want to know.

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From Associated Press:
WASHINGTON - Federal aviation officials are investigating whether air traffic controllers violated federal rules by rerouting four airliners to test the skills of a controller-trainee.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Tuesday that a preliminary inquiry indicates four flights were rerouted near Savannah, Ga., on Saturday.

"There was no compromise of safety by the rerouting," Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman, said in an interview. Controller trainees "must train on simulators, but they must receive on-the-job training under the supervision of another fully certified controller and a supervisor before they can check out," Bergen said.

She said the FAA will investigate whether experienced controllers "were directed to reroute planes to generate additional traffic for the trainee, who was undergoing a skills check."

The FAA statement said the agency "has strict training guidelines which do not permit rerouting flights nor inconveniencing pilots or the flying public."

The aircraft were rerouted at the direction of a supervisor at the air traffic control center in Jacksonville, Fla., said a controllers union official, Dave Cook. Four airliners operated by Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest were detoured into an area between Jacksonville and Savannah, where there were reports of thunderstorms, he said.

The FAA denied there were thunderstorms in the region.

Cook, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative for the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, said the rerouting increased the risk to the passengers and crews.

"In my 20 years as an air traffic controller we had never done anything like what they just did," he said.

Cook said the four planes a Delta Boeing 757, a Virgin Boeing 747 and two Southwest Boeing 737s were traveling south en route to Orlando International Airport near Wilmington, N.C., when they were rerouted inland on orders from an air traffic control supervisor who wanted to test the skills of a trainee.

The planes were directed at least 60-70 miles out of their way into an area of airspace known as the "Alma sector," where there were storms Saturday, Cook said.

The pilots would have had to "zigzag" to avoid the storms, adding more extra miles to their trip, Cook said.

The FAA said the flights were directed only 33-50 miles out of the way.

Besides rerouting the flights, the supervisor also ordered a veteran controller to leave the four flights "stacked" at varying altitudes above 30,000 feet rather than bringing them all down to 30,000 feet and stringing them out in a line, as would be the normal practice before reaching the Alma sector, Cook said. The supervisor told controllers he wanted to leave the planes stacked so the trainee could practice unstacking them.

The supervisor also ordered a veteran controller to tell one of the four pilots to report an incorrect altitude to see whether the trainee would catch the mistake, Cook said.

"To do this with live traffic, airliners that are full of passengers, well, it's reckless. It's beyond reckless," Cook said.

The FAA and the controllers union are at loggerheads over staffing of traffic control facilities. Union officials say many facilities are understaffed or manned by trainees without adequate experience. FAA officials say the union exaggerates in order to gain leverage in contract negotiations.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton declined to comment on the incident. Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline wasn't aware of the incident. Virgin spokeswoman Emily Andariese said she was unaware of the incident.
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Old 10-14-2008, 08:57 PM   #2  
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ATC sometimes gets very testy if you question why you are being given a vector or a change in altitude. Two weekends ago I was given a switch to Oakland Center. After three attempts at contact the controller finally came up and gave me a little wrist slap saying he was on the other line and not to be so impatient. Of course they are often on the 'land line', but my time between contact attempts was not so quick to warrent such a response. On top of that - he actually got his ire up when I asked WHY I was being sent to a certain entry point further to the north and not the usual entry point for landing on Runway 32 at my home base. Well....about 3-5 minutes later I get the redirect to the correct point for my approach to the field. Hey....maybe I was the unwitting pawn in some controller training

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Old 10-15-2008, 04:35 AM   #3  
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The supervisor also ordered a veteran controller to tell one of the four pilots to report an incorrect altitude to see whether the trainee would catch the mistake, Cook said.


This should never be done. Period. Didn't the TSA do something like this with pax bags...putting controlled substances in them without their knowledge and then that pax got busted in a foreign country because the TSA "forgot" about it. What happens if the manager "forgets" about your incorrect altitude???
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Old 10-15-2008, 08:44 AM   #4  
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This is insanity. That's what their simulators are for.

"The FAA said the flights were directed only 33-50 miles out of the way."

I don't care if they only flew 5 miles out of their way. Airplanes were moved for reasons other than safety of flight.
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Old 10-15-2008, 11:52 AM   #5  
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Why don't they just change their hiring guidelines? Currently there is a maximum age for ATC controllers of 31 or something like that right? So, instead of raising the age cut off and letting many pilots take retirement from the airline and join the FAA ATC, they hire high school kids instead...

Last edited by Mason32; 10-15-2008 at 12:18 PM.
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Old 10-15-2008, 12:42 PM   #6  
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And the MANDATORY retirement age for controllers is 55!!! Yep, NO age discrimination there, eh?
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Old 10-15-2008, 12:43 PM   #7  
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Originally Posted by FORTL View Post
This is insanity. That's what their simulators are for.

"The FAA said the flights were directed only 33-50 miles out of the way."

I don't care if they only flew 5 miles out of their way. Airplanes were moved for reasons other than safety of flight.
Good thing fuel is so dirt cheap........
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Old 10-15-2008, 01:14 PM   #8  
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Why don't they just change their hiring guidelines? Currently there is a maximum age for ATC controllers of 31 or something like that right? So, instead of raising the age cut off and letting many pilots take retirement from the airline and join the FAA ATC, they hire high school kids instead...
The hiring guidelines are irrelevant to this incident. The max age of 31 is based on valid research and practice.
Mandatory retirement from active ATC is 56. Another rule that has been researched, and in the case of busy facilities, is an excellent rule. We simply do not possess the mental acuity in later years to keep up the pace. These standards have been upheld in courts.

You suggest they could hire retired pilots to be ATCs? No way!

I fly and was a controller for 29 years. The stresses of operating an aircraft on a daily basis do not compare to working moderate to busy RADAR traffic.
We may as crew members be called upon to act quickly in a bad situation, and there are stresses involved in IFR operations, but I have yet to see the continuous pressure live ATC exposes one to.

As for hiring high school kids, it's not happening. Look at the requirements, they don't meet them.
They are having a tough time hiring and keeping controllers since the pay cut. Anyone with the intellect to be a controller can make more money in other more lucrative pursuits.
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Old 10-15-2008, 04:46 PM   #9  
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I would probably prefer to hire a sharp high school kid over a 30 year old. Most of the older folks who I saw get hired struggled through most of their careers, especially at the busier facilities. I like to tell people that the ideal applicant for a controller job would be a young kid who gets a lot of speeding tickets but doesn't get into accidents! On the other hand, it's a fact of life that our skills deteriorate when we get older. The age 56 rule (just like the age 60/65 rule for pilots) exists because too many folks are in denial.

As far as the original topic is concerned, I never really agreed with the practice of combining the positions in order to bury the trainee. This usually just destroys the confidence of the trainee, creates a safety hazard and delays, and wastes everyone's time. I would rather see the trainee master the basics, so that they would know their limits and have something to fall back on when the chips were down.
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Old 10-15-2008, 05:28 PM   #10  
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Originally Posted by Droog View Post
I would probably prefer to hire a sharp high school kid over a 30 year old. Most of the older folks who I saw get hired struggled through most of their careers, especially at the busier facilities. I like to tell people that the ideal applicant for a controller job would be a young kid who gets a lot of speeding tickets but doesn't get into accidents! So I fit the profile then? On the other hand, it's a fact of life that our skills deteriorate when we get older. The age 56 rule (just like the age 60/65 rule for pilots) exists because too many folks are in denial.

As far as the original topic is concerned, I never really agreed with the practice of combining the positions in order to bury the trainee. This usually just destroys the confidence of the trainee, creates a safety hazard and delays, and wastes everyone's time. From the CFI perspective absolutely, and in our case the student was also the customer, so you had to create the perfect balance of creating challenge and building confidence. You wanted them to succeed but it was imperative for them to make mistakes now rather than later. I would rather see the trainee master the basics, so that they would know their limits and have something to fall back on when the chips were down.
Oh, I would have loved to have gotten to train someone like VH. Although, I think I would have been too distracted be her... uh, intellect to have done a good job! Hope she is doing well, I can never recognize which one is her voice when I fly in there. What about you? Driving your family crazy yet?
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