Back to Squawk list
  • 65

FAA suspends 2nd air traffic controller

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal aviation officials have suspended a Florida air traffic controller following an incident in which two planes came too close together. The suspension is the second in a week i . . . ( More...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

Jon Buerkett 0
Get off these guys we need them and if you have ever flown you know how they really are!! I fly and I can tell you that they make me feel safe and I will trust my life to them anytime. N46TW
Dubslow 0
It seems to me from the wording in this article that the spacing was at the Southwest pilots' discretion; if they felt they were too close, they would have said so and aborted the attempt.
dkroutil 0
REALLY! I hardly feel that safety was compromised. if anything the pilots of the Cirrus (assuming they are at 12k and IFR) should be talked to. what was their excuse?
Greg Miller 0
Totally support the Controller request and the Southwest Pilots. I will attempt to email Southwest and Babbit's office to send my support for the Pilots and Controller. Too much over reaction. A professional crew that most likely is used to close formation flight on the weekend with their own aircraft. No issue here. Babbit and Southwest are just afraid of the voices from the uneducated and they react.
Jeff Lee 0
Maybe visual separation ("maintain VFR") was used. That used to be a legal procedure, weather permitting, in situations like this one.

Several years ago, when Payne Stewart's LearJet had oxygen failure at high altitude, military jets were scrambled and flew close enough to see in the cockpit and report to ATC what they saw.
W S Webb 0
I used same visual contact 3 times in ZAU. Got 3 atta boys. Babbit should be suspended until NTSB final report.
Joel Rodriguez 0
I would give anything to be a fly on the wall at SWA headquarters, to see how they are handling this issue internally.

The article states that the WN pilot was asked to descend to give a visual assessment. Did this violate any in-house WN rules or regulations for their pilots? Could the WN pilot have declined?

I am sure the pilot was only doing what he felt was right, checking on another airman, and I am sure he maintained a safe distance, but... His job is to safely transport passengers, crew and equipment to/from their destination.
dmanuel 0
I too support the controller and SW pilot. While I do not have all the details to make an informed decision (which has never detoured the media), I suspect the controller maintained IFR separation (as the article pointed out they we assigned 11 & 12) until SW had a visual, then using approved procedures (7110.65) instructed the SW pilot to maintain visual separation. As many have pointed on in this comments section, this procedure has been utilized in the past, without the ‘Danger-Danger Will Robinson’ media response. I guess published intercept procedures are too difficult to ‘Google”
Skye777 0
It makes me think of this:

What is something similar had occurred onboard the Cirrus? I'd much rather have people who show initiative guiding and flying my plane than sheep who do exactly what they're told. I imagine this controller is the sort of person you want around when the going gets tough.
Jeff Lawson 0
The two flights involved were [ SWA821] and [ N1487C].
Carl McLelland 0
The more FAA, NTSB and Katie Couric 2nd guess what controllers or pilots are doing the LESS LIKELY a controller or pilot will take action to attempt aid to an aircraft in distress. If SWA had the Cessna in sight I would expect he would maintain visual separation. Reactionism on the FAAs part: show me what FAR was violated, please?
They need to get a grip.
Toby Sharp 0
The only unprofessional thing about this incident is the Cirrus Pilot. If the controller didn't react the way he did, something could have happened to that Cirrus and he would have gotten into trouble anyhow. Catch 22
gftt 0
Thank you to the Controller & SW pilots for going above and beyond the call of duty to do the right thing.
rjb4000 0
"Show me what rule was violated, etc..."


The primary purpose of the ATC system is to prevent a collision between aircraft operating in the system


a. Give first priority to separating aircraft

Chapter 10. Emergencies


e. When consideration is given to the need to escort an aircraft in distress, evaluate the close formation required by both aircraft. Special consideration should be given if the maneuver takes the aircraft through the clouds.

f. Before a determination is made to have an aircraft in distress be escorted by another aircraft, ask the pilots if they are familiar with and capable of formation flight.

1. Do not allow aircraft to join up in formation during emergency conditions, unless:

(a) The pilots involved are familiar with and capable of formation flight.

(b) They can communicate with one another, and have visual contact with each other.


Take the following actions, as appropriate, if two-way radio communications are lost with an aircraft:

1. When an IFR aircraft experiences two-way radio communications failure, air traffic control is based on anticipated pilot actions. Pilot procedures and recom-mended practices are set forth in the AIM, CFRs, and pertinent military regulations.

2. Should the pilot of an aircraft equipped with a coded radar beacon transponder experience a loss of two-way radio capability, the pilot can be expected to adjust the transponder to reply on Mode 3/A Code 7600.

a. In the event of lost communications with an aircraft under your control jurisdiction use all appropriate means available to reestablish communications with the aircraft. These may include, but not be limited to, emergency frequencies, NAVAIDs that are equipped with voice capability, FSS, Aeronauti- cal Radio Incorporated (ARINC), etc.

b. Broadcast clearances through any available means of communications including the voice feature of NAVAIDs.

1. Some UHF equipped aircraft have VHF navigation equipment and can receive 121.5 MHz.

2. “Any available means” includes the use of FSS and ARINC.

FAAO JO 7110.65, Para 4-2-2, Clearance Prefix.

c. Attempt to re-establish communication by having the aircraft use its transponder or make turns to acknowledge clearances and answer questions. Request any of the following in using the transponder:

1. Request the aircraft to reply Mode 3/A “IDENT.”

2. Request the aircraft to reply on Code 7600 or if already on Code 7600, the appropriate stratum code.

3. Request the aircraft to change to “stand-by” for sufficient time for you to be sure that the lack of a target is the result of the requested action.

REPLY NOT RECEIVED, (appropriate instructions).

(Action) OBSERVED, (additional instructions/information if necessary).

d. Broadcast a clearance for the aircraft to proceed to its filed alternate airport at the MEA if the aircraft operator concurs.

FAAO JO 7110.65, Para 5-2-8, Radio Failure.
FAAO JO 7110.65, Para 9-2-7, IFR Military Training Routes.

e. If radio communications have not been (re) established with the aircraft after 5 minutes, consider the aircraft's or pilot's activity to be suspicious and report it to the FLM/CIC per FAA Order JO 7610.4, Chapter 7, Hijacked/Suspicious Aircraft Reporting and Procedures, and Paragraph 2-1-25f, Supervisory Notification, of this order.


Pointing a 737 loaded with passengers at the NORDO aircraft doesn't seem to be mentioned in the 7110.65 - likely the reason this supervisor has been suspended.
mrdedwalker 0
One would hope sense prevails.

The majority of pilots here see the sense in what the controller did here; and would want the same type of help again if *they* were not transmitting. Its not like there was great danger here... the airline aircraft likely had both TCAS and radar for depicting other aircraft proximity. Besides this, flying in the same direction, from above etc.

When does sense prevail and the greater good outweigh the *way* lesser bad, and especially in light of what highly equipped, highly professional people were willing to do? I doubt there is an infringement here, they probably declared a mercy flight or such.
mrdedwalker 0

Ditto from an Australian here (re Cirrus pilots - their part). I'd hate to have it on my conscience that I simply wasn't transmitting (listening?), & someone now has their job on the line.
rjb4000 0

Surgeons are highly equipped professional people, yet they perform wrong side surgery and close up incisions with tools left inside.

The point of procedures isn't to cause accidents, but to mitigate the risk of solving them.
In this case, had the controller followed applicable procedures for dealing with a loss of communication aircraft (which likely would have included asking Jax Center to try contacting him) the scenario could have played out like those that occur reasonably frequently - with the pilot switching to the correct frequency.

The risk involved with formation flight of an aircraft not in communication and a passenger carrying airliner should far *outweigh* the uncertainty of a cirrus not talking to the controller!
Carl McLelland 0
At Ontario TRACON in '76 a controller put a Bonanza on a vector for the ILS at ONT. The pilot stopped responding to instructions so the controller vectored traffic clear of the Bonanza but other than radio calls to him did nothing further. The Bonanza crashed in the San Bernardino mountains near Crestline. Is that what you want? OR, if you had another aircraft who reports the Cessna in sight, is obviously operating in VFR conditions and can maneuver close enough to take a look visually, and try to do something. I'll opt for scenario #2, thank you very much.
rjb4000 0

My question to you would be this: In 1976 what caused the Beechcraft to crash into the mountains? Would having another aircraft fly up next to him have prevented the accident?

Saying "is that what you want" in a scenario that is obviously in no way parallel is not going to prove your point. A cirrus flying level at 11,000 feet over Florida is, I dare say, not likely to crash into a mountain.

If the issue does turn out to be that the cirrus was listening to Jax Center instead of MCO approach, then the scenario could have played out with much less risk had the supervisor asked the center to try contacting the cirrus on their frequencies.

I'm not saying that any accident is worth having. An accident is not possible without first accepting unnecessary risk. That's the definition of a hazard, and I'd personally prefer to be assured that the NAS I fly in is as hazard free as possible.
fabere 0
Just another case of "Big Brother" getting in the way! Back-off FAA! These guys were only trying to help ensure safe skies, NOT deter flight safety. BOTH should be commended.
rjb4000 0

Their intentions were good, their execution was risky. The supervisor will keep his job, but the message will be sent: Accepting avoidable risk is not tolerated.

Why is this so difficult to swallow?
Bobby Rhett 0
Thank you rjb4000 for your voice of reason. Why bring up other scenarios? Scrambling military aircraft to intercept an unresponsive jet in violation of airspace is not a parallel to this situation. Neither is "doing nothing" like the bonanza controller did. What the controller did is unacceptable for 2 basic reasons: He (she?) did not exhaust less risky options, such as contacting JAX or attempting communications by other technologies; and the controller placed a PASSENGER JET as an interceptor. While it is commendable for a pilot to agree to help another pilot in distress, it is not commendable when that pilot's primary duty is to the safety of 125 passengers.
Jerry Lane 0
In theory (tempered with 29 years as a controller) I have no problem with their actions.

As to "Show me what rule was violated, etc..."

FAR 91.111

Operating near other aircraft.

(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.
(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.
(c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.

No way around (b) and (c) not being broken.

As for sanctions, legal precedence exists supports that possibility:
N136EH 0
I commend the controller as well as the airline pilots. If the same situation should arise again I would hope that any controller would act the same and that any aircraft in the vicinity would help out. If any disciplinary action is needed it should be directed toward the Cirrus pilot if his or her radio was in fact operable. Also, I hope for the sake of those directing this punishment that hey are never in a position in flint where they need assistance......
rjb4000 0
@N136EH - Tell me, how exactly did the 737 "help out"?

Further, what disciplinary action could possibly be warranted towards the cirrus pilot?
N136EH 0
The 737 chose to not only assist ATC but to assist another pilot or aircraft that may have been in distress. The airliner pilot could have easily denied the request had he deemed it unsafe for his passengers and crew. However, obviously he felt that he maintained a safe distance and it apparently proved productive as the article states that the Cirrus made contact within 30 seconds of the visual.
N136EH 0
As far as the Cirrus pilot I stated that "If any disciplinary action is needed it should be directed toward the Cirrus pilot "IF HIS OR HER RADIO WAS IN FACT OPERABLE." I personally do not feel that there should have been any disciplinary action taken against either aircraft or the controller. I commend the controller and the airliner pilot for taking the initiative and the effort to assist a possible fellow pilot in need.
N136EH 0
As far as we know the Cirrus pilot may have been sleeping and awakened by the airliner... We should not be so quick to judge others until we have been in their situation.....
N136EH 0
It's always easy to say what you would have done or what another should have done..... The key point is that "BOTH PLANES LANDED SAFELY." a perfect endiing.......
Bill Ewart 0
Upon reading about this incident, I was reminded of a similar situation I found myself in on Nov. 21, 1983:
I was the CIC (controller in charge) during an evening shift at GRB Tower/ Approach Control (Green Bay, WI). I was also working the radar position responsible for all IFR flights in GRB airspace both for GRB airport, satellite airports, and over flights through GRB airspace. I was responsible for the handling of N9232M a MO20 which had departed CLI (Clintonville Airport) bound for MWC (Milwaukee Timmerman Airport). I had completed a radar handoff with Chicago Center on this flight and transferred communications of N32M to the ZAU controller. After several minutes, the ZAU controller called me on the coordination line to ask if I had “shipped” N9232M to their frequency to which I replied in the affirmative. After another period of minutes both ZAU and I noticed the aircraft to begin making wide left turns and remain level at 7,000 feet right at the boundary of GRB/ZAU airspace. Over the course of the next hour, both ZAU and I attempted to make radio contact with the MO20 on ZAU frequencies, guard frequency, FSS frequencies, GRB and OSH VOR frequencies, and of course all GRB frequencies. Nothing! All actions to attempt radio contact failed. The MO20 continued to make wide turns (about 8 miles in diameter), and the winds aloft were continually blowing the aircraft to the east towards Lake Michigan. At some point an Air Wisconsin BA46 contacted me to request practice training maneuvers in GRB airspace which I approved and initiated radar contact with that AWI flight to issue traffic advisories. The MO20 just continued circling and drifting closer to Lake Michigan so I asked the AWI pilot if he could assist me by attempting to ascertain if the pilot was OK. AWI agreed so I vectored him to the MO20. When the AWI pilot asked what he could do, I suggested he approach the MO20 from a safe angle and use his landing light to gain the attention of the pilot. The AWI pilot performed this maneuver and reported he could see the pilot but that he did not respond to the bright light and appeared not to be moving at all. AWI offered to remain in visual contact with the MO20 from a safe distance until the event resolved or AWI became low on fuel. I decided to call the Coast Guard and request they respond to the area of Lake Michigan off shore of MTW (Manitowoc) and standby for further developments. At some point I received a call from the AWI pilot that the MO20 had begun a descending spiral and appeared to be headed for the water. The MO20 did splashdown in the lake about three miles off shore. I marked the spot on my radar scope with a grease pencil and the AWI pilot provided me with radial/DME information off both GRB and OSH VORs. This data was relayed to the Coast Guard who subsequently found a fuel slick at the coordinates we provided. For more information on this accident visit:

Legal resolution for the victim’s family proceeded quickly due to the voice tapes, AWI pilot observations and Coast Guard findings. I was given a Special Achievement Award based in part on my actions of this tragic evening.
Now to apply my experience to the publicized actions of the Central Florida Supervisor/Controller, it is my opinion that he was attempting to do something similar to what I had done so many years ago. The action was conducted safely and the outcome ended happily……. Almost! It is reported that the Supervisor was suspended as were the SWA pilots. This to me is not a good outcome, for as controllers and pilots encounter similar unusual situations in the future, they may not be interested in trying to resolve them for fear of punishment from the FAA. I do agree that an investigation into the incident is in order and that a “lessons learned” attitude would be sufficient to describe different ways to have handled the situation. But…I suggest that the investigation is an exercise in hind sight and was conducted by people not involved with the incident in real time and who quite possibly have never had such an experience themselves. I would call for them to place themselves in the position of the controller or pilot as the incident was underway and see if they might have a different perspective on the actions taken. I suggest actions were being taken to ascertain the “health” of the Cirrus pilot and other necessary information (including the possibility of the aircraft descending into a populated area) prior to calling for fighter intercept.
Let me add one more excerpt from the FAO 7110.65 air traffic control manual to those of rjb4000:

a. An emergency can be either a Distress or an
Urgency condition as defined in the “Pilot/Controller
b. A pilot who encounters a Distress condition
should declare an emergency by beginning the initial
communication with the word “Mayday,” preferably
repeated three times. For an Urgency condition, the
word “Pan‐Pan” should be used in the same manner.
c. If the words “Mayday” or “Pan‐Pan” are not
used and you are in doubt that a situation constitutes
an emergency or potential emergency, handle it as
though it were an emergency.
d. Because of the infinite variety of possible
emergency situations, specific procedures cannot be
prescribed. However, when you believe an emergency
exists or is imminent, select and pursue a
course of action which appears to be most appropriate
under the circumstances and which most nearly
conforms to the instructions in this manual.
JO 7110.65, Para 9-2-7, IFR Military Training Routes.
Obtain enough information to handle the emergency
intelligently. Base your decision as to what type of
assistance is needed on information and requests
received from the pilot because he/she is authorized
by 14 CFR Part 91 to determine a course of action.”
I would hope that the disciplinary actions taken against the controller and pilots would be revisited and possibly rescinded for in my opinion, they were not operating recklessly or without due regard for safety. Quite the contrary, it seems to me. I think they were attempting to resolve the situation in a safe manner and operated in a reasonable manner.
A retired air traffic controller.
dmanuel 0
Congratulations and well done Bill. Knowing how quickly the general public & FAA appear to want the controller burned at the stake, would that give you a moment of pause today? As a former FPL (CPC), I too have asked for support from an air carrier, but this was long before the internet gave the uninformed a pulpit.
I had a single engine aircraft, IFR at 5000, have an engine failure. As luck would have it, he was near a small (unattended) airport. After I pointed him toward the airport, he got too low for radio communication and eventually I lost radar contact.
I had a (Airline name withheld) DC-9 in the area, so I asked him if he could try to contact the aircraft on guard and Unicom, to get a status report (the CIC had already alerted the sheriff). He was unable to establish comm., so he asked for a vector to where we last had radar contact, at MVA, to see if he could see anything.
At this point, the Captain took the initiative, concerned for the downed aircraft’s pilot and passengers, canceled IFR so he could go a bit lower. He was able to locate the airplane and radioed everyone appeared to have survived. I suspect what made a major difference was (the Captain later told us) he involved the passengers and told them he needed their help to look for a plane that just crashed, while he flew low over the site.
Because of his support, authorities were able to get to the downed aircraft sooner. I suspect, in today’s environment, volunteers will not be so forth coming.


Don't have an account? Register now (free) for customized features, flight alerts, and more!
This website uses cookies. By using and further navigating this website, you accept this.
Did you know that FlightAware flight tracking is supported by advertising?
You can help us keep FlightAware free by allowing ads from We work hard to keep our advertising relevant and unobtrusive to create a great experience. It's quick and easy to whitelist ads on FlightAware or please consider our premium accounts.