For Immediate Release
March 29, 2011
Contact: Sasha Johnson/Laura Brown/Kathleen Bergen
Phone: Sasha 202-267-3883, Kathleen 404-305-5100
The FAA is investigating an incident that occurred on Sunday March 27, 2011 when an air traffic controller in the Central Florida Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) requested assistance from a passenger aircraft in checking on a Cirrus SR22 aircraft that had been out of radio contact for over one hour. The Cirrus was on course for Kissimmee, FL and maintaining altitude at 11,000 feet. Air traffic controllers at Jacksonville Center (ZJX) repeatedly tried to reach the aircraft without success.
Southwest 821 (SWA821), a Boeing 737, was ten miles in trail of the Cirrus at 12,000 feet and heading for Orlando International Airport (MCO). The controller asked the Southwest crew if they could check the cockpit of the Cirrus. The Southwest crew agreed, was directed towards the Cirrus and reported the aircraft in sight.
The Southwest pilots reported seeing two people in the cockpit. The Southwest flight turned away and the air traffic controller then vectored the aircraft for its arrival at Orlando International Airport. Approximately thirty seconds later the Cirrus contacted Jacksonville Center who gave them the current frequency. Both aircraft landed safely at their destinations.
Preliminary information indicates that there was a loss of required separation between the two aircraft. The FAA has suspended the air traffic controller, who is a supervisor.
“By placing this passenger aircraft in close proximity to another plane, the air traffic controller compromised the safety of everyone involved. This incident was totally inappropriate,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We are reviewing the air traffic procedures used here and making sure everyone understands the protocols for contacting unresponsive aircraft.”