Controllers Honored For Saving Lives

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With budget cuts, the threat of looming mass retirements and an ever-growing air traffic system, attention is drawn to how the skills of an air traffic controller measure up when it comes to safety in the skies. Multiple court cases highlight the critical nature of controller/pilot communications, and at least one has saddled controllers with partial blame in an accident (and saddled the FAA with the bill). But controllers also save lives, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's new "Medal of Safety" award. Monday in Washington, D.C., 12 controllers who helped pilots (and passengers) avert disaster were honored for their work. Ken Hopf helped a distraught passenger land a Piper Malibu safely in Laconia, N.H., after the pilot became incapacitated. Scott Dittamo was working the tower in Newark when he spotted a 747 on short final with its gear up. His warning assured a safe landing. Transcripts and audiotapes of the pilot-controller exchanges are available online. NATCA also has created a "Sentinel of Safety" Award for non-NATCA members who have worked to advance aviation safety. The first one was given to Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) on Monday night. Oberstar has championed efforts to prevent ATC privatization, NATCA said. About 300 NATCA members are in Washington, D.C., this week for their annual legislative conference and Hill visits, lobbying for more funding and more staffing for ATC.