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FAA HR Chief Objects To Her Flight's Go-Around at Boston, Orders Investigation That Shuts Down Crucial Runway Safety System - (9/29/2008)

BOSTON – Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration twice shut down the critical runway safety radar system at Boston Logan International Airport known as AMASS (Airport Movement Area Safety System) on orders from high-level FAA management to investigate a routine, safe go-around event involving an arriving AirTran flight that had on board Ventris Gibson, the FAA’s assistant administrator for human resources management.   

Apparently upset at having her flight’s landing interrupted, Gibson attempted to blame a controller for the incident. Said Logan Tower NATCA Facility Representative Matt McCluskey: “This was a frivolous, pointless investigation that ended up jeopardizing the safety of the airfield by taking away a critical piece of equipment that helps us prevent runway incidents by sounding alarms in the tower if evasive action to stop a collision is required.”   

The incident occurred on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 10 p.m. EDT. A US Airways flight landed but was slow in exiting the runway because it had to roll to the end of the runway due to a taxiway closeure. The AirTran was on a short final approach. The delay by US Airways forced controllers to issue a go-around instruction to AirTran to prevent an unsafe landing. There are an estimated 900 go-arounds at Logan each year. Most, like this one, are routine and safe.   

But Gibson ordered an investigation. So the next day, FAA headquarters in Washington requested a replay of the event on the AMASS radar system. In order to view the replay, the entire system has to be brought off line. The system was down for approximately two hours during the busy afternoon rush. Local FAA management found no irregularities with the go-around and no loss of separation between the aircraft.   

But that wasn’t good enough for Gibson. The FAA sent Director of Runway Safety Wes Timmons to the tower the next day, Sept. 4. He wanted to see a replay of the event on the AMASS radar system so they shut down the AMASS a second time during the morning of Sept. 4. Again, nothing improper was found. The controller was not accused of any wrongdoing.  

 “Taking down a safety critical piece of runway equipment because a senior executive was mad about being delayed from a go-around is unacceptable to us and, at a minimum, contradictory to the FAA’s stated goal of reducing runway incursions,” McCluskey said. “This is also an example of the FAA’s worsening punitive culture where the goal is to intimidate and harass controllers with the hope of finding something they can discipline them for.”    


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