Nintendo On Steroids

A news report reported allegations of controllers playing games with airplanes under their control. No accidents occurred but there have been repercussions.

The Federal Aviation Administration is starting negotiations with the union representing air traffic controllers. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal may indirectly impact some of the issues in those negotiations.

Anyone who flies probably has occasional fears of problems with the plane or the flight. So, when reports surface of internal problems within the FAA and the air traffic control system, people who fly get very nervous. Here is one such report.

A whistleblower in the Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) reported that a group of controllers known as the "T-Boys" liked to play games using airplanes under their control (The term is allegedly a short-hand version of testerone boys). The whistleblower reported that one controller would direct a plane toward the same spot that another aircraft was also headed for. The loser in the game was the first one to order their airplane to turn away.

The accusations were first reported by the Dallas Morning News last month.

The union representing the controllers denies that anyone would intentionally put an aircraft in danger and told the Journal "If they’ve got the goods on them, they should prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. If they don’t, don’t smear them."

An internal report found an unusual number of operational errors at the facility and concluded that the errors were the result of poor work practices and weak supervision. Some controllers were working lying down and listening to the radio while directing airplaces. And, in one instance, a controller told a business jet to fly toward the same spot as a commercial flight. The planes passed within 500 feet of each other. A similar event in 2004 occurred when a controller sent a commercial jet straight toward a business jet and the planes came within seven seconds of colliding.

And, in a provision apparently unique to this facility, an inspector general’s report found that supervisors could investigate suspected errors only if the controller involved gave permission. The agency says that pollicy has been changed.

The inspector general’s report found no evidence controllers were intentionally creating problems for planes. The FAA said that no one was being fired because "Firing requires an incredibly strong burden of proof that’s just not there in this case."

Some controllers have been sent to training sessions, some managers have been put on probation and a quality assurance manager has recently been reassigned. And, while it may be unrelated, the whistleblower who reported the problems has been moved into a supervisory position at the airport control tower.

Airport management says it thinks the FAA has done everything it can to remedy the problems there.

Let’s hope that is the case. Enjoy your next flight.