September 13, 2012

Gillibrand Calls for Answers on FAA Investigations Into Air Traffic Controllers at Westchester County Airport

Senator Requests Timeline of FAA Probe and Disciplinary Action After a Recent Near-Collision at Local Airport and Earlier Allegations of Controllers Sleeping in the Control Tower

White Plains, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to immediately provide an update on the status and timeline of their investigations into air traffic controllers at Westchester County Airport. The Senator’s request comes after a recent near collision of two small planes at the airport cleared by an air traffic controller and allegations earlier this year of controllers’ sleeping in the control tower. Senator Gillibrand asked for an immediate review of whether either of these incidents violated FAA regulations and what disciplinary measures would be taken if regulations were violated.   

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter sent last night to FAA Acting Administrator Huerta, “I write today regarding news reports about a recent near collision of two small aircraft at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY. As you know, I have previously requested an investigation into allegations by a whistleblower in February 2012 that controllers had been sleeping or distracted by personal electronic devices while on duty, a violation of FAA rules… In light of this new incident, I am requesting an update on the current status, as well as a timeline for when you anticipate a final report to be made.  Once the investigation has been completed, I request that my staff and I be briefed to the fullest extent possible on the findings and any disciplinary actions that will be made if it is found that any FAA rules were violated.  Additionally, I would like to request a detailed description of FAA actions to address the recent near-collision.” 

Last month, news reports said an air traffic controller mistakenly sent two small planes on a near collision course, clearing both arriving and departing planes. The planes reportedly came within 200 feet of another, with one cleared to take off just as the other was about to land. According to the FAA, the incident is under investigation. Under FAA procedures, the departing plane must clear the intersection before an arriving plane lands on the runway. 

 

In February, Senator Gillibrand demanded that the FAA launch an investigation into whether or not air traffic controllers were sleeping on the job at Westchester Airport after complaints were made by a whistleblower over the controllers’ alleged misconduct while on duty. In May, the Office of Special Counsel also called on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for an independent investigation into these allegations. Senator Gillibrand has spoken directly with Secretary LaHood and Acting Administrator Huerta regarding her concerns over public safety at the airport.  

 

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is below:

 

Dear Acting Administrator Huerta, 

 

I write today regarding news reports about a recent near collision of two small aircraft at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY. As you know, I have previously requested an investigation into allegations by a whistleblower in February 2012 that controllers had been sleeping or distracted by personal electronic devices while on duty, a violation of FAA rules. In the interest of our shared commitment to public safety, I seek your immediate attention on both of these concerning matters. 

 

I  appreciate your spending time with me recently in my office and your indication the investigation into the whistleblower’s allegations was nearing completion. In light of this new incident, I am requesting an update on the current status, as well as a timeline for when you anticipate a final report to be made.  Once the investigation has been completed, I request that my staff and I be briefed to the fullest extent possible on the findings and any disciplinary actions that will be made if it is found that any FAA rules were violated.  Additionally, I would like to request a detailed description of FAA actions to address the recent near-collision. 

 

Thank you for your dedication to ensuring that all FAA employees are adhering to the highest standards of safety and professional conduct. I look forward to continuing to work with you on this important issue.