DOT IG Tower Staffing Report

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The FAA needs to communicate its air traffic policies relating to staffing in writing, according to a report from the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) that was released last week. The report was conducted to consider the staffing issue as it related to the August 2006 crash of a Comair regional jet in Lexington, Ky. According to the report, the FAA had issued verbal guidance in August 2005 reiterating that two controllers should be on duty during midnight shifts at facilities with both radar and tower functions. But the OIG found that the guidance, because it was communicated orally, was misinterpreted and inconsistently applied, with more than 11 percent of midnight shifts not in compliance. Since the Comair accident, FAA has formalized the verbal guidance into a written order. The OIG recommended that in the future, the FAA should communicate changes in air traffic policies in writing and it should also develop and implement procedures to ensure that facilities are complying those orders. The FAA concurred with those recommendations and said it would take action. “The FAA is charged with maintaining the highest standards of safety in aviation, not safety at the margins,” said U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee. “Rep. [Peter] Costello and I have asked the Inspector General to do a follow-up study to ensure that the FAA is enforcing its own rules, and that directions to tower personnel are properly communicated and followed.”