FAA Staffing A Factor In Fatal Crashes, Says NATCA

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Two fatal crashes this year might have been affected by FAA staff changes, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said yesterday. In one incident, a local radar facility was closed for the night when a twin-engine Beech Baron crashed on approach in Lawrenceville, Ill., last month, killing the pilot. NATCA says local approach controllers should have been guiding the aircraft, but instead the flight was being handled by the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. An accident in April at the Bloomington, Ind., airport, in which five people aboard a Cessna U206G were killed, also resulted from the reduced quality of air traffic services available to the pilot, NATCA said. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told AVweb yesterday that the NTSB has not yet determined a probable cause for either of those two accidents. She added that many airports have transferred their approach control radar services over to a center during times of low activity. "At Terre Haute, approach control services were transferred in February 2006," Brown said, "because of low activity on the overnight 11 to 7 shift, averaging just two flights a night." She added that center controllers who provide approach control services are trained to do so. "We have looked at the information from both accidents, at Bloomington and Lawrenceville, that we got from active controllers," said NATCA Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis. "And we have reached the conclusion that the absence of an experienced approach controller at Terre Haute TRACON working these flights definitely had an impact on these events."