New York Air Traffic Controllers Slept On Duty: OSC

on May 09 2012 5:57 PM

The Federal Aviation Administration is being urged to implement stronger oversight of air safety after officials found several safety rules violations on the part of air traffic controllers in New York. 

The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Wednesday revealed that air traffic controllers in the greater New York area have fallen asleep in the control room, left their shifts early and used their personal electronic devices while on the job. Those controllers have also used what the counsel described as dangerously imprecise language when directing aircraft, and it has resulted in a near-crash.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner sent a letter to the White House and Congress on Wednesday, informing the lawmakers of these safety concerns. The OSC is an independent federal investigative agency. It is tasked with investigating whistleblowers' complaints.

The OSC issued a statement Wednesday, saying that the FAA has one of the highest rates of whistle blower filings per employee of any executive branch agency. The OSC said it received some 178 whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees since fiscal year 2007. Eight-nine of those are related to aviation safety, the OSC said. It also referred 44 of those complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation for investigation and the DOT has verified all but five of those referrals in whole or in part, according to the OSC.

The public properly expects zero tolerance for unnecessary risks, Lerner said in a press release. Preventive measures could be far more effective if the Department of Transportation listened to its own employees' alarm bells and acted on them promptly.

Some of the other complaints received were that unauthorized aircraft often entered U.S. airspace near San Juan, Puerto Rico, officials are relying on faulty wind instruments at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and that for years Delta airlines didn't comply with U.S. safety rules on fuel tank and electrical wiring interconnection system.

Bloomberg News reported that supervisors in the New York air-traffic facility were replaced and disciplinary action taken against three managers in 2011.

We are confident that America's flying public is safe, the DOT told Bloomberg in a statement.

More than 1.3 million flights a year happen in the New York region's three primary airports, according to Bloomberg.

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