Agency: D/FW air traffic management covering up mistakes

Jul. 12--Air traffic controllers who watch over North Texas skies are repeatedly allowing airplanes to fly into situations that could result in a crash -- and upper management is systematically shifting the blame to the pilots involved, according to an...


Jul. 12--Air traffic controllers who watch over North Texas skies are repeatedly allowing airplanes to fly into situations that could result in a crash -- and upper management is systematically shifting the blame to the pilots involved, according to an investigative federal agency.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency that enforces laws protecting government whistleblowers, is requesting a special investigation into the operation and management of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport's air traffic control system, which also oversees the air traffic into Love Field. The investigation may be widened to a national scope.

"We're talking about a culture of fraud," U.S. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch, who heads the agency, said in an interview. "It's a pretty shocking saga of what is going on down there."

Managers with air traffic control at the airport referred comment to the Federal Aviation Administration. So did the spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FAA released a statement that says there are numerous audits that take place to ensure all air traffic controller errors are reported and are correctly classified.

"The flying public can rest assured that the FAA thoroughly investigates every safety deviation, whether it was the result of controller or pilot error, and closely tracks and addresses any pattern of errors," the FAA stated.

This will be the second investigation of D/FW airport's air control system in two years. The first occurred after whistleblower Anne Whiteman alerted the FAA that managers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control, which handles all air traffic over North Texas, intentionally ignored and covered up many instances in which jets flew too close to one another.

After Ms. Whiteman's disclosures, another controller nearly forced her vehicle off the road, according to police and federal documents. That controller, who was never charged, said the incident was unintentional. Ms. Whiteman also reported that she was harassed, threatened and intimidated by her co-workers and managers. The Office of Special Counsel concluded its investigation on Monday and confirmed that Ms. Whiteman faced retaliation, mistreatment and a hostile environment.

Two years ago, the FAA agreed to fix the problems found by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general. The agency also moved Ms. Whiteman from the job she loved as a controller in the radar room to a controller position in the tower.

But now a second whistleblower, who has asked to remain anonymous, has come forward with allegations of how jets are still flying too close to one another because of controller errors. The whistleblower said that the controllers' mistakes are then swept under the rug, and the pilots are blamed, according to Mr. Bloch.

"I received that information, and it was shocking," Mr. Bloch said. The information "regarded radar replays and data plots showing operational errors and the FAA's attempt to shift blame to pilots. It showed errors putting airplanes into each other's course that could result in a crash and attempts by the FAA to cover it up."

The Office of Special Counsel approached Ms. Whiteman about the allegations. She backed up the whistleblower's stories about safety lapses still occurring regularly.

"Nothing has changed. They just manipulated how they hide things," Ms. Whiteman told The Dallas Morning News. She is now an air traffic control supervisor in the tower at D/FW.

"Now we're into a 9 1/2 year cover up," said Mr. Bloch. He told the U.S. Department of Transportation by letter on Tuesday that he was ordering an investigation into air travel safety at D/FW and possibly at other facilities across the country. The department has 60 days to conclude the investigation.

"We believe this might be national in scope to artificially suppress the number of errors in FAA control facilities and towers," he said.

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