Entries in Federal Aviation Administration (16)


FAA Readies to Close Dozens of Air Traffic Control Towers 

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- One of the first major impacts from Washington's budget sequestration will soon kick in as the Federal Aviation Administration gets ready to close dozens of air traffic control towers.

Of the 189 airports on the FAA's original list of potential tower shut-downs, 149 have landed on the final roster. Most of them are in small to mid-sized communities, such as Danbury, Connecticut,  but a few that serve fairly sizable communities -- Topeka, Kansas, Branson, Missouri, and Boca Raton, Florida, for example -- will all see at least their secondary airports lose their control towers. The head of the FAA said the agency will work with all 149 areas to ensure air safety at soon-to-be-uncontrolled airports.

Paul Estefan, Airport Administrator at Danbury Municipal airport in Connecticut, which serves 13 operators, said all traffic will be handled by radio with New York. This could present safety issues, he said, especially on hazy days when "a pilot's flying in the area and the controller's not there to point out additional traffic based on the radar screen they have in front of them in our control tower."

The FAA had given the airports a chance to appeal the decision in early March if they could prove it would be an issue of national interest. Estefan said he wrote to the FAA under that issue and they responded Friday, telling him and five other Connecticut airports that they didn't make it. The FAA decided to keep 24 towers open under the national interest issue.

The airport towers confirmed to shut down are scheduled to close on April 7.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Domestic Drones One Step Closer to Becoming Reality

Artist's rendering. Stocktrek Images/Thinstock(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it is seeking proposals from states, universities and other organizations for six sites where unmanned aircraft systems will be tested -- a major step for integrating domestic drones into the U.S. airspace system.

“Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world’s largest aviation system,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Thursday. “This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies.”

The FAA ensured that the test sites would be required to adhere to privacy standards during all of their research and testing.

“Each site operator and its team members will be required to operate in accordance with federal, state and other laws regarding the protection of an individual’s right to privacy,” the FAA said in a statement.

While the FAA is responsible for ensuring the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace, questions loomed at a House hearing Friday over which agency would be responsible for handling the related privacy issues.

“It’s unknown at this point,” Gerald Dillingham, director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said at a Science, Space and Technology House subcommittee Friday. “From our perspective, that’s one of the big obstacles to integration -- that is public acceptance, public education, public concern about how their data will be used.”

“American public are just frightened, frankly, about the use of UAS to possibly have invasions of their privacy and invasions of their civil rights and I’m extremely interested in making sure that we protect those privacy issues and civil rights issues,” Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said.

“We have to at least figure out who the go-to person is in the administration so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks,” Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., ranking member of the subcommittee, said.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required the FAA to establish test sites for domestic drones by the end of 2012, a deadline which the agency missed as it assessed privacy concerns, as well as the full integration of unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace by September 2015, which the FAA views as a starting point.

“Our approach is a phased approach and we’re very cognizant that the FAA Act of 2012 called for safe integration by 2015. We view that as a beginning,” Karlin Toner, director of the Joint Program Development Office at the FAA, said. “We’re taking a phased in approach. In 2015 we’ll have integration beginning but as we move towards the next gen system there will be new capabilities that make this an even more efficient integration for more varieties of aircraft.”

Reps. Tom Poe, R-Texas, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced legislation Thursday that would establish guidelines for who can use drones and for what purposes. The proposed legislation would also ban unmanned aircraft systems containing firearms in the U.S.

“As we enter this uncharted world of drone technology, Congress must be proactive and establish boundaries for drone use that safeguard the constitutional rights of Americans,” Poe said in a statement. ”Individuals are rightfully concerned that these new eyes in the sky may threaten their privacy. It is the obligation of Congress to ensure that this does not happen. Just because Big Brother can look into someone’s backyard doesn’t mean it should. Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.”

“Whether we like it or not, for better or for worse, this technology is here, and it’s not going away,” Maffei said at the hearing. “We must develop the necessary framework to handle UAS emerging safely and securely. We must also ensure the protection of individual rights and personal privacy in the air and on the ground.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


American Airlines Flight Diverted over Loose Cabin Seats

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American Airlines is investigating how and why a row of seats aboard one of its Boeing 757s came loose mid-flight this weekend, forcing an emergency landing in New York City, ABC News has confirmed.

The incident, which is also being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), happened on Saturday aboard a flight from Boston to Miami.

In a statement, the FAA said, "Preliminary information indicates that a row of three seats in the coach cabin apparently became loose."

Three passengers were accommodated in other seats before the plane was diverted to John F. Kennedy International Airport at 12:50 p.m., the statement continued.  No one was hurt.

Once on the ground, all passengers on board were placed on another flight to Miami.  They suffered a three-hour delay.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Near Midair Collision Between Three Jets Prompts FAA Investigation

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into an incident, first reported by the Washington Post, in which three airplanes nearly collided midair at Reagan National Airport Tuesday afternoon.

The newspaper reported on Wednesday that an incoming US Airways jet that was cleared for landing ended up flying directly towards two departing US Airways jets after it had been rerouted.  A storm that brought a change in wind patterns prompted air traffic controllers to reverse the flow of traffic around 2 p.m. Tuesday.

A collision was avoided -- by about 12 seconds, according to the Post -- between the inbound plane and the first of the two outbound planes when an air traffic controller recognized the mistake and ordered the inbound flight to change course.

The FAA, which was alerted to the near mishap by the newspaper, issued a statement Wednesday night explaining the situation.

"DCA (Reagan National Airport) had been landing and departing aircraft on Runway 1, from the south to the north.  Due to the bad weather developing, the Tracon (Terminal Radar Approach Control) was switching operations to land and depart aircraft from the north to the south on Runway 19.  During the switchover of operations, miscommunication between the Tracon and the DCA tower led to a loss of the required separation between two regional jets departing from Runway 1 and a regional jet inbound for Runway 19," the FAA said.

"Preliminary information indicates that the closest proximity was 1.45 nm lateral and 500 ft. vertical for the first plane departing Runway 1 and 2.42 nm lateral and 600 ft. vertical for the second plane," the agency noted.  Standard separation requirements are 3 nm lateral and 1,000 ft. vertical.

The FAA said it was "investigating the incident and will take appropriate action to address the miscommunication."

The National Transportation Safety Board, which was also made aware of the report, said on Wednesday it was in the process of gathering information to determine whether it too will launch an investigation.

US Airways, the airline reportedly involved in the incident, issued a statement saying it was looking into the matter and working with the FAA to determine what happened.

"The safety of our customers and employees is always our top priority," the carrier said.

According to the Washington Post, 192 passengers and crew members were aboard the three planes.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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 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


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


FAA Misses Another Pilot Fatigue Deadline

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has missed another deadline for implementing new rules aimed at protecting travelers from pilot fatigue, a decades-long and potentially deadly problem.

The proposed safety rules would significantly reduce work hours for pilots who make countless number of takeoffs and landings per day, often operating on little to no quality sleep.

An ABC News investigation earlier this year revealed pilots across the country struggling to even get "destructive sleep" in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircrafts into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight. 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.

The FAA was originally scheduled to decide on the new rules by Aug. 1 but that day came and went without new regulations. A new deadline was set on the government docket for Nov. 30, but the FAA failed to meet it as well.

The FAA told ABC News that despite the missed deadline, it is "working aggressively" to implement the "most sweeping rule in aviation history to combat pilot fatigue." The administration did not say when the new rules might be implemented.

According to the proposed rules, there would be an increase in the rest period between shifts for pilots, which is currently eight hours, and a decrease in the maximum length of a pilot's workday. Pilots are currently allowed to be on duty for up to 16 hours.

One reason for the missed deadline, according to a government official, is that the White House Office of Management and Budget is still reviewing the economic viability and impact of the new rules and has asked the FAA to work on minimizing impact on the airlines. An official at the OMB said the office was working closely with the FAA on the rules and expected it to be finalized "very soon."

Following the missed August deadline, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, sent a letter to the FAA in which he placed some of the blame on the airline industry.

"I know that there are efforts on the part of [the airline] industry to weaken these rules by stalling their implementation and undercutting their intent," Schumer wrote. "This is unacceptable."

A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News, "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."

One vocal group pushing for the implementation of the new rules are the families of those who died when Continental's Colgan Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board initially linked pilot fatigue to the crash. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training.

"For nearly three years now we have heard [Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood and [FAA] Administrator [Randy] Babbitt say that this is the top priority," the families said in a joint statement. "All we can say is that our patience is wearing thin. The time for lip service is long past and now is the time to step up to the plate and deliver."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Lorin in the crash, said the families won't stop pushing for the government to move ahead with the new rules.

"Every day that goes by where passengers in this country are allowed to board regional airlines where pilots may be lucky to get five or six hours of sleep the night prior is another disaster waiting to happen," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Another FAA Partial Shutdown to Come? Senate in Stalemate

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The current funding for the Federal Aviation Administration expires this Friday, threatening to put 80,000 people out of work by Saturday, unless Congress sends a bill to President Obama.

But as of now, the bill does not have a way forward in the Senate with both sides pointing fingers at the other party, one Republican Senator standing in the way of anything moving forward, and the Senate majority leader all-but calling that Republican Senator a “dictator” for holding up the bill.

The House of Representatives passed a joint bill Tuesday to continue temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and federal highway, transit and highway safety programs.  Now in the Senate, the bill is being objected to by one Republican: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is upset over the funding that states must invest in surface transportation as part of the Highway bill, which is tied to the FAA bill.

But to make matters more confusing and head-shaking, the Senate’s $6.9 billion package to fund FEMA is also being dragged into this debate because of the Senate floor procedure.  The Senate on Tuesday passed a cloture motion to proceed on the disaster aid bill, meaning procedurally the FEMA bill must be passed first.  This basically puts a hold on the FAA/highway bill until FEMA is fully passed.  But, some Republicans, including Coburn have concerns over the FEMA bill, too.

As of now, unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were to set aside the FEMA bill and call up the FAA bill, which he likely will not do, the FAA bill is being held up, forced to be addressed second.  The FAA bill though has a deadline of Friday evening, when funds will run out.

Wednesday on the Senate floor, without naming names but clearly targeting Coburn, Reid likened his actions to a dictator in threatening to hold up the bill.

“We’re told this is going to be held up by the Republicans,” Reid bemoaned.  “The Senator says he doesn’t want to vote.  He just wants to hold the bill up.  He said if we put in what we got from the house and stuck his provision in that, I think he would be happy.  I guess anyone would, madam president.  It’s a pretty good way to legislate around here, be a dictator and say either take this or leave it that.”

Coburn is concerned about the programs designed to increase bike lanes and green space on the roads -- which is part of the transportation bill -- and wants the funds taken out.  The senator wants states to be able to opt out of the transportation enhancement mandate, and to have that change written into the bill.

Reid warned that if the FAA funding expires on Friday there will be about 80,000 people out of work by Saturday: 4,000 out of work for the FAA and about 70,000 who are working on airport construction jobs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio