New Policies Result From Flight Fracas

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A top FAA official has been "counseled" by Administrator Marion Blakey and new flight information policies are being drafted after the agency got caught in a Texas-sized political scramble in May. The Department of Transportation's Inspector General's office released findings of the FAA's involvement in the fracas, which, as we reported in June, at one point had the full weight of the Department of Homeland Security's interdiction apparatus looking for a planeload of hooky-playing Texas state politicians. "The FAA lacks clear internal guidance for the processing of requests for FAA aircraft/flight information received from law enforcement and other government entities," said the report, triggered by Sen. Joe Lieberman, and authored by Inspector General Ken Mead. The kafuffle arose out of a May 12 filibuster by Democratic members of the Texas legislature, who fled to nearby Oklahoma to prevent a quorum for a vote on a contentious Republican bill. One of the senators, Pete Laney, used his airplane to make his getaway and that's where the FAA became involved. When the Republicans found out Laney was in the air, calls were made to at least three FAA offices, one of which referred the caller to the DHS tracking facility in California. Fort Worth Center was also contacted and provided flight-plan information but it was the call by a senior Texas staff member to David Balloff, the FAA's Assistant Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs, that had the most repercussions. Balloff, who told investigators he thought the inquiry was safety-related, called the FAA's Washington operations center and was told Laney's plane would be landing in Ardmore, Okla. One of Balloff's staff then called the unnamed Texas official with the information, which told the Texas Republicans where the Democrats' hideout was. Balloff later told investigators he felt "used" when he found out what the information was for. "I would never use my office to help somebody out politically, or any political reasons, period," he said. Mead's recommending policies be drafted so all FAA staff know what they can say and to whom and for them to write down the names of people who make such inquiries and why. A separate set of rules governing the gathering of flight information by the public, via the Internet, is also in the works.