An air traffic controller with a history of disciplinary problems almost caused an airline disaster at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport last year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The narrowly averted airline accident involved an Embraer ER145 jet with 53 passengers and crew and a Cessna 172. The two planes took off at the nearly the same time on two runways that crossed each other. The planes passed within 300 feet of one another in the air over the airport. One air traffic manager called it a “miracle” that no one was killed in the incident.
The air traffic controller in question had been cited for failing to comply with proper procedure in the past. He had been suspended multiple times recently for being late, for not showing up, and for failing to report that he had been arrested for driving under the influence. He is still working as an air traffic controller in Gulfport to this day.
The Most Wanted list released by the NTSB each year highlights top safety concerns in the transportation industry. Air traffic controller and pilot professionalism made the list for 2012 due to commonplace lapses such as the one that caused this near miss. The Federal Aviation Administration has instituted several new policies designed to improve the performance of air traffic controllers. It is not clear if any of those policies have been effective.
Despite the gross error, and the history of misconduct by this controller, he was recertified and put back in a position to endanger the lives of passengers and crew. If safety were truly an important goal in the air traffic control industry, it is doubtful that such a person would be retained. Hopefully, he will improve his conduct or find another line of work before he makes an error that costs people their lives.
Source: The Washington Post, “NTSB: Controller with history of disciplinary problems nearly caused in-flight collision,” by Joan Lowry, 18 January 2012