But Would That Have Helped?
Two days after the fatal runway overrun accident at Blue Grass
Airport in Lexington, KY, the FAA has reportedly admitted the tower
was understaffed when the Comair CRJ-100 attempted to take-off from
the wrong runway on Sunday.
NTSB Member Debbie Hersman says the FAA tower manager told her
investigators having just one controller on duty has been
considered standard operating procedure for almost a decade. But
CNN has obtained an FAA memo dated last November, which says a
minimum of two controllers are needed in that tower at all times:
one to handle controller functions, the other to deal with
administrative and other duties.
As Aero-News reported, 49 of
the 50 people on board were killed in the crash. Only the copilot,
James Polehinke -- who was handling the takeoff -- survived. He's
still in critical condition at the University of Kentucky
At Tuesday evening's NTSB briefing, Hersman described what the
lone controller in the tower was doing when Comair Flight 5191
rolled down the wrong runway.
"He says the last time he saw the aircraft was when it was
taxiing to runway 22," Hersman said. After clearing the airliner
for takeoff, the controller -- a 17-year employee at the Lexington
tower -- then turned around to perform a traffic count, and turned
his eyes away from the plane, Hersman said, which was lining up on
runway 26 for takeoff.
The controller did not see the airliner's takeoff run. Hersman
said the controller was not aware of a problem until he heard the
The FAA now admits it should have scheduled a second controller
on the overnight shift in the Blue Grass tower -- or should have
separated tower and radar functions, handing radar control over to
Andrew Cantwell, regional vice president of the National Air
Traffic Controllers Association, had a mixed reaction to the
"I think it's a good thing that the FAA actually acknowledged
that they were not following the guidance that they put out last
year," he told CNN, "but it's extremely sad that it takes an
accident for that to become public knowledge."
What is still uncertain -- and will likely never be known -- is
if that second controller could have averted the accident. Cantwell
says a second controller only would have helped to ease the
workload -- and that ATC is not required to watch aircraft depart
from the field.
Cantwell was clear in stating he does not believe controller
error contributed to the accident.
"I believe the controller performed his duties as required and,
unfortunately, there were other duties to be accomplished at the
same time," he said.
On Monday, the FAA added a second
controller to the overnight weekend shift at the