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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today sent letters to the President and Congress alerting them that noncompliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules by air traffic controllers at a Florida control center is creating hazardous conditions that could increase the likelihood of events such as midair collisions. A whistleblower, who is an air traffic control specialist, disclosed to OSC that air traffic controllers at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Hilliard, Florida do not comply with FAA rules when transferring aircraft from one airspace sector to another. Rather than address controllers' noncompliance with the rules, ARTCC managers implemented a change in standard operating procedures (SOPs) that is creating potentially hazardous air traffic conditions. An investigation by FAA substantiated the whistleblower's allegations, but FAA has still not modified the SOPs.
FAA found that the change in SOPs creates a safety hazard by moving aircraft dangerously close to one another at the same altitude. This deviation gives controllers very little time and space to react and prevent a possible collision. For its investigation, FAA interviewed several supervisors and controllers, all of whom stated that the SOP change was “hazardous" or “introduced risk." The supervisors of the affected sectors stated they had no knowledge or involvement in the SOP change until its implementation.
“Despite being alerted to these troubling findings, FAA management has failed to take appropriate corrective action," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “The Safety Risk Management process is not merely an exercise in completing forms. It involves a critical safety analysis to identify and mitigate hazards posed by air traffic procedures. Every supervisor and controller interviewed by FAA stated that the SOP change is hazardous or introduces risk, yet FAA continues to use these procedures without modification. We urge FAA to reconsider its position and take immediate corrective action."