Entries in FAA (52)


FAA Investigating 80 Year Old's Skydive Mishap

iStockPhoto/ThinkStock(WASHINGTON) -- One 80 year old grandmother’s terrifying skydive is being investigated by the FAA after it went viral.

The video was created by The Parachute Center, a skydiving company in Acampo, Calif., as a memento for jumpers to take home after their airborne adventures.

It shows a woman named Laverne having second thoughts right before her jump, but the instructor scoops her up and they fall out of the plane. At one point in the video, it appears that Laverne has slipped out of her harness, and the instructor grabs on to her.

In a statement to ABC News, Parachute Center owner Bill Dause said, “This happened a long time ago and everything worked as advertised. No one got hurt or injured.”

An FAA safety inspector visited The Parachute Center on Saturday, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. The inspector spoke with the company owner and employees about the incident and plans to do additional interviews and examine records next week.

Skydiving fatalities are on the decline these days, with some 21 deaths out of 3 million jumpers in 2010, a 0.007 chance of death, according to the association.

Nancy Koreen, a spokesperson for the association, said it looked as if Laverne’s harness wasn’t adjusted properly, and that she wasn’t positioned properly before the jump. “But that’s not at all a common occurrence,” she said. “It’s extremely, extremely rare.”

Even so, Laverne will probably celebrate her next birthday on solid ground.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio Online


FAA May Have Highest Whistleblower Count in Government

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency responsible for protecting government whistleblowers, says it receives a disproportionately high number of tips from employees of the Federal Aviation Administration. In a letter sent to the White House and Congress Tuesday, the OSC highlighted seven individual cases to illustrate what it said was an “ongoing problem” of inadequate responses from the FAA and its parent authority, the Department of Transportation.

At a news conference, the attorney who drafted the report called it a “snapshot” of issues plaguing the organization charged with regulating American airspace.

“The FAA’s failure to take its own employees’ safety concerns seriously, and respond to them promptly, is a flaw in its otherwise stellar credentials,” said special counsel Carolyn Lerner.

Lerner said after it was presented with the seven cases over a two-month period -- an unusually elevated number -- it prompted the organization to review FAA records as far back as fiscal year 2007. On average the OSC handles only 25 to 30 cases a year across the entire federal government.

Typically, the OSC reports on a case-by-case basis to lawmakers. But in the letter, Lerner wrote the “proximity in time, the serious safety issues raised and the recurring nature of the problems” prompted the watchdog organization to consolidate the seven cases into a single filing. The move suggests a backlog of whistleblower complaints that would be impractical to address individually.

“This does not seem to be an aberration,” she said. “What it showed us is that there has been a steady stream” of filings from the FAA.

According the OSC, 178 FAA disclosures had been referred to the office since 2007, with 87 related to aviation safety. Of those, 44, or roughly half, were deemed to warrant further investigation and referred back to the Department of Transportation. In contrast, the OSC said that on average only five percent of employee complaints across the entire federal government contained enough merit to proceed further.

“The FAA numbers are extraordinarily high,” says counsel spokeswoman Anne O’Hanlon. “Probably it’s the highest agency.”

The Department of Transportation eventually substantiated the claims of all but five of the 44 investigations, but even then the OSC alleged that the agency dragged its heels on corrective action. Lerner said in six of the seven complaints the whistleblower had to repeatedly alert the department that OSC was taking too long.

The complaints themselves represent a wide swath of safety problems:

In one, an aviation safety inspector disclosed that night vision modifications to hundreds of emergency medical helicopters made flight instrumentation potentially difficult to read. The issue continued to pose a hazard to some pilots in both day and night lighting conditions, although the FAA had initiated a plan to correct the problem.

For another example, air traffic controllers at Detroit Metro Airport alleged that conflicting tarmac guidelines were confusing controllers into regularly directing planes on takeoff to come too close to planes aborting a landing. Lerner demonstrated the claim with a flight recording from Christmas Day 2009 showing a Northwest Airlines jet that came within dangerous proximity to an American Eagle regional jet in flight.

The letter also demonstrated that the professional conduct of some air traffic controllers continued to be a concern. Evan Seeley, an air traffic controller formerly stationed in Long Island, N.Y., told the OSC that careless and casual communication with pilots had caused at least one serious error with aircraft that could have resulted in a midair collision. Seeley’s testimony also brought back attention to controllers sleeping on the job, playing video games, watching movies and other distracting behavior in the control room.

Of the eight whistleblowers involved in the letter’s filings, seven had originally approached the FAA with their concerns -- sometimes repeatedly -- before going to the independent OSC. One of the whistleblowers faced retaliatory action from the employer for raising an issue.

In all seven instances, the FAA or Department of Transportation eventually took corrective action to address the findings, but Lerner maintained that slow responses could be evidence of a systemic problem.

Each of the cases “paints a picture of an agency with insufficient responsiveness given its critical public safety mission,” she said.

Lerner, however, pointed out that the sheer amount of whistleblowers did not inherently denote a public safety risk, and suggested it might have to do more with the high quality of information coming from FAA employees, compared with that from other government agencies.

The counsel stressed that her office’s findings “are not unique to one administration,” with several complaints originating during the presidency of George W. Bush. One of the seven examples provided in the letter began with an incident as far back as 2005. The counsel said she could not speculate on how FAA’s problems could stretch across the political appointments of multiple administrations.

The OSC notified Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Tuesday morning of its findings. In a written statement, the Department of Transportation responded to the report by saying it has been addressing cases since their original referral in 2010. According to the agency, its inspector general had worked to “promptly review, investigate and take aggressive action where necessary to ensure our high safety standards were met.”

“We are confident that America’s flying public is safe,” it reads, “thanks in part to changes that DOT and FAA have already made in response to these concerns and other whistleblower disclosures. DOT is committed to continuing to review its policies and practices to implement improvements where necessary.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FAA Scolds iPad Bird-Strike Videographer

File photo. Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Even if you don’t remember the name Grant Cardone, surely you remember his video. Cardone was on the recent Delta flight hit by birds shortly after takeoff at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport.

While filming out of the window with his iPad, Cardone caught the sudden blur of birds pass his window, followed by the thud of them smashing into the plane’s engine. Use of electronics during take off is strictly prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA has now issued Cardone a warning letter encouraging him to comply with regulations on future flights.

“In cases where there is evidence that a passenger has used a personal electronic device on a flight at a time when it was not allowed, the FAA may elect to send a warning notice to the passenger to encourage compliance with regulations on future flights,” the FAA said in a statement.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Two Planes in Close Call After Rookie Air Traffic Control Error

Comstock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- A Federal Aviation Administration probe into the rookie mistake of an air traffic controller, which brought two planes perilously close at Honolulu International Airport, has led to the resignation of a longtime air traffic controller.

A Japan Airlines 767 jet arriving in January to Honolulu from Tokyo and a United Parcel Service MD11 jet also coming in for a landing were involved in a near miss, only 15 miles west of the Hawaii capital, as first reported by Hawaii News Now.

The FAA now admits that because a rookie air controller froze while handling the planes, the two jets came within 300 feet of each other. The near miss caused both pilots to react to cockpit warnings of impending collision.

"UPS 36 heavy, fly heading 180. Japan Air 72 heavy, descend and maintain 1, 3,000," the air traffic controller said during the Jan. 14 incident, leading the JAL pilot to radio, "Japan Air 72 heavy, now TCAS descend."

The reference to TCAS means the pilot's collision alarm went off.

"One of the aircraft's computers said, 'climb,' and the other aircraft's computer said, 'descend'. So that they wouldn't go on this collision course and hit each other," ABC News Aviation consultant Steve Ganyard explained.

At one point, their altitude separation dropped to 0, meaning they were headed straight for each other, Hawaii News Now reported.

The novice controller who caused the near miss was handling eight planes at once, traffic the FAA considers of "average complexity," according to an FAA error-deviation report.

The FAA managers on scene at the time never reported the near miss. It wasn't until the UPS pilot told the National Transportation Safety Board that FAA headquarters found out.

The FAA said in a statement that as soon as the agency learned of this incident, it took quick and decisive action, which included retraining for the young controller and the resignation of his manager.

The FAA placed air traffic control manager Bob Rabideau on administrative leave in February. Rabideau, 65, who had been an air traffic controller for 20 years, later chose to retire.

The controllers union says it works with the FAA on safety.

"We take incidents like this very seriously," a spokesman said. "We are working collaboratively with the FAA on a wide array of initiatives that improve safety, which is our No. 1 priority. We are striving to make the world's safest system of aviation even safer."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pilot Requests Emergency Landing, Tower Calls ‘B.S.’

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Safety experts are stunned after the pilot of a passenger jet filled with smoke called the Denver International Airport control tower for help and the air traffic controller dismissed the call, saying it was “B.S.”

The April 3 flight from Peoria, Ill., was scheduled to land in Denver. Everything was going according to plan until smoke filled the plane.  The pilot of the United plane called the control tower to request an emergency landing.

“This is 5912.  Emergency, smoke in cockpit, roll trucks, please,” said the pilot.

But the control tower did not know who was calling.

“And who was that?” the controller replied.

“5912,” the pilot said, but the control tower apparently heard “United 12.”

“United 12, what’s your position?” the controller asked.

The pilot did not respond, and the controller decided it was a hoax.

“Did you hear that?” the controller asked another controller. “I know that’s BS. I know it is.”

“United 12. You, you know of United 12 anywhere?” he added.

“And, ah, I apologize. If you probably heard there, that’s not real what we’re hearing on the frequency,” the controller announced to his coworkers.

The plane prepared for an emergency landing believing that fire crews had been dispatched and were ready to assit.

When the plane landed, the pilots called the control tower again in a panic.

“We’re on the runway!  We’ve been evacuating! We’ve been evacuating!  34 right!” the pilot screamed.

But even with the plane on the ground, the controllers still didn’t believe the emergency was real.

“12 verify that wasn’t you,” said the controller.


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Prank calls to control towers are not that uncommon and the controllers may have thought this was one.

But longtime pilot and aviation expert Kevin Hiatt says lives were hanging in the balance at a time when seconds mattered.

“This is a very serious situation and could have had a very disastrous result,” said Hiatt.

“I think it’s very troubling. An air traffic controller should never assume or jump to a conclusion at any time,” Hiatt added.

Aviation experts say that the pilot was wrong in initially identifying himself as only as “5912.” He should have identified himself as “United Airlines 5912.”

Luckily the pilots landed and evacuated the plane safely,  without help from the control tower.

The FAA has yet to comment on the incident.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FAA Taking 'Fresh Look' at Gadget Policy?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It’s the dreaded moment on many a traveler’s journey: The flight attendant announces that everyone on board must turn off their electronic devices. Some say they find the order annoying because they don’t believe there’s any reason to do so.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that any electronics aboard airlines interfere or have interfered in any way,” said John Nance, aviation consultant and retired commercial airline pilot, in an email to ABC News.  “All the claimed incidents – and I do mean all – have been unsubstantiated anecdotal stories.”

Over the weekend the FAA said in a statement it would take a “fresh look” at the policy after an article  in The New York Times claimed as much. Monday, however, in a new statement, the FAA has toned down its language on the matter, saying it is exploring ways to bring together all stakeholders:

“As with any regulation, safety is always our top priority, and no changes will be made until we are certain they will not impact safety and security.  For some time, the FAA’s rules have permitted an airline to allow passenger use of PEDs if the airline demonstrates the devices will not interfere with aircraft avionics.  The FAA is exploring ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved, but, ultimately, testing is the responsibility of each airline.  We recognize that this is an area of consumer interest, and our goal is to bring together these key stakeholders to help facilitate a discussion as we have in the past.”

Nance said it’s the responsibility of the FAA — not the airlines or FCC — to make scientifically-sound decisions on this matter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Passes Bill to Modernize FAA, Extend Its Funding

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- By a vote of 75-20, the Senate Monday night passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization conference report.

Most notably, the FAA Modernization Reform Act will extend the funding for the FAA through 2015, investing more than $20 billion in airports and runways in the country and on modern air traffic control equipment.

This marks the first long-term reauthorization of the FAA in almost five years -- the agency has worked under 23 short-term extensions since 2007.  The past extensions have just been in two- or three-month increments, time after time.

“It will finally give the FAA the ability it needs to be a world-class travel system,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday. “The aviation jobs bill will also create thousands of jobs, about 300,000," Reid said without elaborating. "It will protect airline workers and approve safety for travelers. This legislation will create badly-needed jobs and will give the FAA the ability to finally upgrade the country's air traffic control system.”

The House of Representatives passed the bill last Friday, so it now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rep. on New FAA Rules: Gov't Won't Tuck Pilots In

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two years after 50 people perished in an airplane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., the Federal Aviation Administration issued a new rule Wednesday to combat pilot fatigue, but placed the final responsibility with the pilots to say when they're too tired to fly and, as one Congressman put it, to "tuck [themselves] in at night."

"While the final rule provides improvement for aviation safety, pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty," Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, said after the FAA's announcement. "The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night."

Under what the FAA said was a "sweeping final rule," pilots will be subject to new flight time limits and a mandatory ten-hour rest period between duty time, but the rule did not directly address the problem uncovered in an ABC News investigation of commuting pilots who have to travel from their home bases to duty elsewhere, often getting little sleep in difficult conditions before takeoff.

Rather, the new rules simply say pilots must report themselves unfit for duty to the airlines if they're too exhausted, something aviators told ABC News previously they're wary of doing for fear of reprisals.

"The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre-duty activities such as commuting," the new rules say, according to the FAA. "At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 30-year-old daughter Lorin in the Buffalo crash, told ABC News Wednesday he and the other victims' families are "frustrated" with the FAA.

"The families are frustrated that commuting has not been an issue that has been addressed from a regulatory standpoint at this time," Maurer said. "We requested that this is an item that is brought back up on their agenda and are awaiting some response to that."

An ABC News investigation in February revealed commuting pilots across the country pilots were struggling just to get sleep in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircraft into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Undercover video of crew lounges taken by pilots and provided to ABC News during the investigation showed pilots asleep overnight in chairs and on sofas. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight.

The new rules also do not specifically address the use of crash pads and sleep in crew lounges, which are already contrary to airline rules. At the time of ABC News' investigation, then-FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said industry representatives told him the use of such stopgap fixes, "simply isn't going on."

In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Former Continental Express pilot Josh Reikes told ABC News at the time of the investigation that one captain jokingly warned him, "Don't you ever let me wake up and find you sleeping."

One of the most vocal groups pushing for new rules are the family members of some of the 50 victims of the 2009 Colgan Air crash in Buffalo. In that case, the pilot of the plane, who commuted to his Newark base from Florida, had spent the night before sleeping in a crew lounge at Newark airport, raising concerns about the role of fatigue with safety investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. The co-pilot had commuted to work on overnight flights from Seattle and also tried to sleep in the crew lounge, unable to afford a hotel room. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training and capabilities: pilot error was ultimately found to be the cause of the crash.

"We did recognize that they were likely impaired by fatigue," Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said after the NTSB's initial investigation.

The NTSB also found that about 70 percent of the Colgan Air pilots based at Newark were commuters, many coming from long distances to work. Approximately 20 percent commuted from more than 1,000 miles away.

The FAA missed two deadlines for implementing the new rules before Wednesday's announcement and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, previously said the airline industry was possibly stalling them on purpose. A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News earlier this month, "We believe the rules need to be changed and [we] continue to advocate for rules that are based on science and are proven to improve safety."

According to the FAA, the new rules are expected to cost the aviation industry nearly $300 million.

"We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue," Transportation Secretary LaHood said Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FAA Administrator Resigns Following DWI Arrest

City of Fairfax Police Dept(WASHINGTON) -- Federal Aviation Administration chief J. Randolph Babbitt left his post Tuesday in light of his recent arrest for allegedly driving while intoxicated.

The former airline pilot was put on a leave of absence Monday after police arrested him in Virginia Saturday night, saying Babbitt was under the influence of alcohol while driving. He was pulled over after an officer on patrol observed a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road, according to a statement from the Fairfax Police Department.

In a statement from Babbitt released Tuesday by the FAA, he said he was “unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by my colleagues at the FAA.”

“I am confident in their ability to successfully carry out all of the critical safety initiatives underway and the improvements that the FAA has planned,” Babbitt wrote.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt Arrested on DWI

City of Fairfax Police(FAIRFAX, Va.) -- Randy Babbitt, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, was arrested Saturday on charges of driving while intoxicated, after a patrol officer in Fairfax, Va., noticed a car "driving on the wrong side of the road,” police said Monday.

A police press release read: "After it was determined that he was under the influence of alcohol, Babbitt was transported to the Adult Detention Center where a magistrate issued a warrant for driving while intoxicated. He was placed on a personal recognizance bond...Babbitt was the sole occupant of his vehicle, which was not involved in a crash with any other object. He cooperated fully with the arresting officer," the announcement read.

Babbitt has been placed on a leave of absence, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday upon learning of the FAA administrator’s arrest.

“Administrator Babbitt has requested, effective immediately, to take a leave of absence from the FAA,” the agency said in a statement.  “That request has been granted and Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator.  DOT officials are in discussions with legal counsel about Administrator Babbitt’s employment status.”

Babbitt was named administrator of the FAA in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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