WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced steps to strengthen the reporting system designed to classify airspace errors, in response to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General (IG) that revealed the intentional misclassification of operational errors at the Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Approach Control (TRACON).
In direct response to IG recommendations contained in a report issued today, the FAA removed both the facility manager and assistant manager at the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON from their positions pending a final determination on possible further personnel actions; additional personnel actions may be taken. The Air Traffic Safety Oversight organization has implemented unannounced on-site audits at the TRACON, requiring monthly reports to the FAA’s acting administrator. Additionally, the FAA will accelerate deployment of the Traffic Analysis Review Program (TARP) — software that automatically detects losses of aircraft separation at terminal facilities — at Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON. The program will be implemented by the end of fiscal year 2008.
“I am deeply disturbed by the findings in this report,” said Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “I am personally committed to making sure the IG’s recommendations are implemented and that managers are held accountable.”
Specifically, the IG found that management at the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON investigated operational errors and deviations, but routinely and intentionally misclassified them as pilot errors or non-events. The report was prompted by whistleblower allegations that management was covering up operational errors and deviations. It found that between November 2005 and July 2007, TRACON managers misclassified 62 air traffic events as pilot deviation or non-events when it fact there were 52 operational errors and 10 operational deviations. The IG found no evidence of misclassification issues beyond the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON.
Krakowski said the FAA is putting measures in place to ensure that misclassifications cannot happen anywhere else in the system. The FAA will establish a nationwide, independent quality assurance position that will report directly to the just-appointed vice president of Safety Services for the Air Traffic Organization, Air Force Reserve Brigadier General Robert O. Tarter. The position will oversee incident reporting, make incident determinations, and audit the data integrity of facility reports. Currently, responsibility for incident determination lies solely with the facility manager. This move increases accountability of the managers by adding senior-level oversight. The FAA will also be accelerating the nation-wide deployment of the TARP by the end of 2009.
“The safety of the traveling public is our top priority and will not be compromised. The intentional distortion of reporting incidents defeats our ability to understand the root causes of errors and enact mitigation if we see a trend developing,” Krakowski said.
“Aside from the integrity issue, it’s a lost opportunity to gain insight into causal factors,” Krakowski added. “That action is fundamental to safety and we won’t tolerate anything less.”
The Safety Services organization will conduct audits of all air traffic control incidents and coordinate the findings and responses with the highest level officials in the FAA. Within the next six months, the FAA will provide nation-wide training for Air Traffic facility managers and safety officials about roles and responsibilities for reporting and classifying airspace errors. The agency’s inspector workforce will simultaneously be retrained on their responsibilities for conducting investigations of reported pilot deviations.
The FAA recently signed an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to create the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, designed to foster a voluntary, cooperative, non-punitive environment for the open reporting of safety concerns. This type of reporting system — which is used throughout industry — will help to create an atmosphere where controllers and managers can identify, report and correct safety issues and emerging risks.