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FAA Mismanagement at Charleston (S.C.) Tower Leading to Spike in Errors, Safety-Compromising Mistakes by Uncertified Supervisors - (1/19/2007)

CONTACT:     Rick O’Hara; 843/327-8870; rackohara@bellsouth.net  

CHARLESTON, S.C. – In the entire 2006 fiscal year, the Charleston Air Traffic Control Tower had no operational errors or deviations. But so far, in the first three-and-a-half months of the current fiscal year, there have been six errors, including one committed by a Federal Aviation Administration supervisor. Three others occurred when an uncertified supervisor stood watch. And air traffic controllers say poor management practices, including forcing them to work sick and subjecting them to intimidation is going to result in that error total rising even higher. 

The FAA has allowed several uncertified supervisors to work and even permitted a former supervisor to return to work after making a racial slur against another employee, only to have the same supervisor later intimidate employees and threaten an air traffic controller. Poor management is also stretching controller staffing resources to their limits, often resulting in too few controllers on certain shifts. 

Uncertified supervisors have stood watch over controllers and also worked the flight data position, which is responsible for disseminating weather information to controllers so they can relay it to pilots. The position is normally staffed by a fully certified controller, but because there are not enough controllers to staff it, the FAA has allowed these supervisors to step in. Among a rash of fatal aviation accidents in the Southern Region recently was a crash involving an aircraft being worked by Charleston Tower. When that crash occurred, an uncertified supervisor was working the flight data position and was also responsible for the supervision of the operation of the radar portion of the facility.

“A supervisor must be operationally current at the facility in order to perform watch supervision duties and the supervisors the FAA has brought in here are not,” said Rick O’Hara, the Charleston Tower facility representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “They have to be certified for a reason: Safety. You need to know the intricacies of a facility’s operation and airspace in order to effectively supervise everything that goes on.” 

Said NATCA Southern Region Vice President Victor Santore: “These uncertified supervisors, brought in from other facilities such as Charlotte and Myrtle Beach, do not have the local knowledge to make safe decisions regarding how to staff the facility. For example, they recently assigned a partially certified controller to work the midnight shift, a clear violation of FAA rules. Since that time, we know the FAA has changed those rules to meet their business needs.” 

Other egregious examples of poor management that have occurred include: 

-       Last week, during an emergency situation, one of the new supervisors didn't know whom to call to coordinate the work. Controllers say he yelled at them to ask whom to call and how to reach them. He eventually had to grab a controller who had just walked in to do the coordination.

-      The new supervisors are now calling some employees’ National Guard commanders asking them to change their Guard duty to other days. Said Santore: “A fully staffed facility should not need to take that step to staff the building.”

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