NTSB Says Controllers Should Have Emergency Powers
The NTSB is using the US Airways flight 1549 Hudson River ditching to allow air traffic controllers to independently label an aircraft's discrete transponder code as an emergency code, regardless of the crew's actions. (Link to PDF.) Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and FO Jeff Skiles, famous for their safe handling of an Airbus A320 as it glided into the Hudson, did not set their transponder to 7700. The NTSB does not fault them for that. But it does recognize that when an emergency code is selected, the full data block associated with the aircraft is provided to the displays of more controllers. And that, the NTSB hopes, could improve airspace handling, teamwork and a safe outcome during complicated emergency situations. The NTSB safety recommendation gained support from controllers.
The recommendation would bring changes to airport surveillance radar, automated radar terminal systems, and how controllers interface with those systems. It would grant controllers the ability to independently identify (within their systems) an aircraft in distress, bypassing the busy emergency flight deck. Controllers at other facilities would then have access to more complete data while working the problem. Speaking for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Doug Church said the proposal "does make sense, and it is, in fact, practical and a good idea to enhance aviation safety."