Controllers Say Bizjet Failed To Clear Runway
The Federal Aviation Administration is reopening its
investigation into a January 16 runway incursion at San Diego's
Lindbergh Field, an incident the agency originally dismissed as
posing no safety hazard, but which the controllers' union described
as very serious.
A British-made Hawker Siddeley corporate jet had landed about
1800 local time, and was assumed to be taxiing off the runway. But
it apparently suffered a mechanical problem, and didn't clear the
runway before a controller cleared Southwest Flight 1626 to take
off for Las Vegas.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor says controllers routinely clear planes
for takeoff as other aircraft are still exiting the runway. He says
the planes were not closer than 3,000 feet apart.
Melvin Davis, a San Diego-area chapter president with the
National Air Traffic Controllers Association, begs to differ. "It
was a mistake to do that. The runway was clearly occupied."
Davis tells the San Diego Union Tribune he believes the
corporate jet did not just have its tail protruding, as reported by
the FAA, but was actually still in the middle of the runway's west
The union has been battling the FAA for more than a year over
work rules and pay imposed on it by the agency after contract talks
failed. NATCA has kept up a steady stream of rhetoric about
unwanted overtime, early controller retirements brought on by
unfair work conditions and pay, and warnings about the safety
impact of overwork and stress among controllers. The campaign
escalated in the last few weeks to declarations at several air
traffic control facilities of "staffing emergencies," a term coined
by NATCA to underline its complaints.
The union cannot legally strike, and has resorted at times to
hyperbole to discredit FAA management. NATCA has also taken an
active stand against Senate confirmation of acting FAA
Administrator Robert Sturgell, picked up some sympathetic support
for that stand among other labor groups, and may, in this election
year, influence enough union-friendly lawmakers to delay or reject
While the FAA has apparently bowed to union pressure to take
another look at the Lindbergh Field incursion, Gregor says he's
surprised by the union's tactic. "I'm surprised that leadership is
accusing one of its own controllers of committing an error while
the FAA's safety office has yet to make any determination or
ascribe any blame in this incident."
Davis told the Union Tribune that air-controller fatigue,
brought on by long hours, was a contributing factor in the
Lindbergh Field incident. He said the controller involved was a
seasoned employee in his 50s, but has been working six days a