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FAA safety cover-up continued in Texas, investigation finds

April 25, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday its second effort in three years to stop its managers in Texas from covering up air safety violations -- after a new investigation found that the misconduct continued into last year.

In the latest blow to an agency already under fire for letting airlines ignore its safety directives, the FAA announced that the top two managers of an air traffic control facility in Dallas-Fort Worth had been removed from their jobs.

In addition, the Transportation Department's inspector general found that FAA managers in Dallas-Fort Worth routinely intentionally misclassified instances where airplanes were allowed to fly closer together than they were supposed to, the FAA said. Instead of calling them operational errors or deviations from safety rules by FAA controllers, the managers labeled them pilot errors or nonevents.

"We're not going to stand for this," acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell told a news conference.

Hank Krakowski, a former United Airlines pilot and safety executive who became the FAA's chief operating officer in September, acknowledged that the FAA had promised to fix the problem in 2005 but "today it's clear to us those commitments were not taken seriously by people in my organization who were responsible." He announced a new attempt to remedy the problem.

The FAA only learned of the continuing problem because a whistle-blower -- controller supervisor Anne Whiteman, who first reported in 2004 that agency officials were concealing violations -- had come forward again last year to say the FAA managers were still underreporting safety violations by FAA controllers or now misreporting them as pilot errors.

The new inspector general report that substantiated Whiteman's latest allegations was ordered last year by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent investigating agency responsible for protecting whistle-blowers. A brief summary of the findings was issued by the FAA. Special Counsel Scott Bloch did not plan to release the report until he had time to evaluate it in detail with whistle-blowers but said it "seems to validate what our brave whistle-blower Anne Whiteman brought forward."

"I continue to be concerned about a national trend," Bloch said in a statement referring to the Dallas-Forth Worth cover-up and the recent disclosure of lax FAA supervision of safety compliance by Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. "These problems exist because of a culture of complacency and cover-up in the FAA. This culture did not develop on its own. I believe it happened with the complicity of higher management and could not have been possible without the support of leadership in Washington."

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