So now we learn that first lady Michelle Obama’s plane had to abort a landing Monday at Andrews Air Force Base because of a mistake by a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller. The controller’s error could have resulted in a collision involving the aircraft carrying Mrs. Obama and a military jet.
And on Sunday, another controller working in an FAA facility near Cleveland became so engrossed while watching “Cleaner” — a forgettable 2007 action movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson — that he failed to realize the soundtrack was going out through his radio to all of the aircraft in the air space he was supposed to be monitoring on his radar. Only a call from a military pilot jolted him out of his cinematic reverie. These latest outrages bring to nine the shameful recent incidents when air traffic controllers were found to be sleeping on the job or otherwise not paying proper attention to their duties. Since air traffic controllers have the lives of thousands of commercial airliner passengers and crew members in their hands, such on-the-job negligence is simply unacceptable.
But sensational as the headlines about snoozing controllers have been and as critically important as it surely is that the agency fix the problem as soon as possible, there is another side to this story that demands urgent congressional attention. Just as there are sick buildings made ill by too much encrusted “stuff” accumulating in the air vents and furniture over many years, there are sick government agencies enfeebled and blinded by insular management and apathetic regulators. Such is the case with FAA.
As The Examiner has been saying on these pages for several years now, FAA managers have ignored critically important recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board concerning aircraft position identification and collision avoidance technology and training. Here are some of the questions we have asked in this space.
There are also questions about why so many whistle blowers inside and outside the FAA, including airline pilots with impeccable records, have been penalized, persecuted or driven from the agency after exposing outmoded procedures that could jeopardize the flying public. Plus, the Government Accountability Office has raised multiple questions about the inability of the FAA’s managers to clean up NextGen, the glitch-plagued, $40 billion global-positioning air traffic control system. This misbegotten information technology program has been delayed over and over, and seems certain to end up costing taxpayers at least four times more than the original estimate. The only way to fix a sick agency is to turn it upsidedown, shake out all of the accumulated detritus from past decades, and give it a new start. Only Congress can do that for the FAA.