Embarrassing the FAA

On December 17th 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released to the public the docket on their investigation into Northwest Flight 188, the plane that on October 21st inexplicably failed to talk to air traffic controllers for over an hour and then overflew its destination airport (Minneapolis) before realizing their mistake.

This incident made national headlines, in part because of the FAA’s delaying in notifying the military (through the Domestic Events Network or DEN), that in turn failed to get fighter jets airborne to intercept the wayward flight.

“Air traffic controllers” were faulted in the press for failing to follow procedure.  However, as I noted in an earlier blog, it was actually FAA managers that chose to …

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The FAA Higher Skill Set

One of the things that’s so frustrating about working as an air traffic controller for the FAA is the organization we work for.

The job itself can be very satisfying:  that is if you like the job and you’re any good at it.  Air traffic control can be demanding and includes a lot of responsibility as well as work autonomy; controllers work independently with only general supervision almost exclusively.

But a lot of those who don’t like doing air traffic control or weren’t good at it apply to become FAA managers.  It’s the Peter Principle at work.  And therein lies a large part of what ails the FAA.

There aren’t a lot of prerequisite skills in order to qualify to …

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The FAA Higher Skill Set At Work

Everyone makes mistakes.  But it’s intolerable to see a situation where FAA managers don’t “practice what they preach” or worse yet believe they are above the standards they set for everyone else.  After all these are the people that are supposed to be leading the organization.  In the case of Northwest 188 they certainly didn’t lead by example.

The situation with Northwest 188 not being in contact with air traffic control snowballed in large part because of the failure of a few FAA managers to follow procedures.


Keep in mind these are the same FAA managers who mandate procedures and checklists for air traffic controllers.  These are the same managers who mandate that all verbal air traffic exchanges, as well …

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A Hail Mary

The pilots of the Northwest flight that weren’t paying attention and overflew their destination on October 21st are now claiming that the air traffic controllers are ultimately at fault for the incident because they:

“…did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident”

This claim was made in an appeal to the FAA, who revoked their licenses (pilot certificates) as a result of the incident.

The pilots are clearly grasping at straws in this appeal and who can blame them?  Without flight …

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