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Mon, Feb 26, 2007

Columnist: Controller Received Two-Week Suspension From FAA

Agency Claims Scott Pressley Violated Visitation Rules

Was it proper discipline, or sour grapes? That is the question posed by a Birmingham, AL reporter, regarding the two-week suspension of an air traffic controller by the FAA.

Birmingham News columnist John Archibald maintains Scott Pressley, the local representative for the Birmingham branch of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, got a raw deal. Pressley was recently suspended from duty for two weeks, reportedly due to a series of procedures violations stemming from a visit Archibald made to the Birmingham TRACON last year.

According to Archibald, Pressley invited him to take a tour of the TRACON last year, after the columnist wrote a story on air safety and controller staffing, "that featured some it's-all-good commentary from the FAA," in the writer's words. Pressley wanted to show him "real life in the bowels of the radar room."

The journalist visited the TRACON on a Saturday, "driving past the gate with no guard and on to the control center," he notes. Pressley gave him a short tour of the facility, including the radar room and control tower.

All was well... until comments Archibald wrote about the visit attracted the FAA's ire. The agency launched an investigation, "called me a security breach and flew a lawyer from Washington to get the goods," according to Archibald, who adds the lawyer later told him the issue stemmed from the fact Pressley didn't have the columnist sign in for his visit.

Five months later, Archibald says, Pressley's boss presented a list of four infractions. Besides failing to sign Archibald in, the columnist says the charges state Pressley violated visitation procedures, shirked his regular duties and misled investigators. As punishment, Pressley was suspended for two weeks, which works out to about $5,000 in lost wages and benefits.

Archibald says Pressley admits he failed to have him sign in. The controller disputes the other three charges, however, and hopes arbitrators will sort things out.

The columnist questions the timing of the FAA's decision. When he asked for a comment from Pressley's supervisor, Archibald says he was referred to the agency's Atlanta facility. But the spokesman there was out, so his questions were referred to Washington, DC. Archibald says he's still waiting on an official comment.

"It's coincidence, I suppose, that the ruling came days after Pressley was quoted in another Birmingham News story questioning air safety procedures," Archibald says.

As Aero-News reported, Pressley told the paper "safety was definitely compromised" when radar scopes at the Birmingham TRACON went blank January 17, snarling flights in the area for close to five hours.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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