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Reports: ATC Denied AA Pilot's Emergency Landing Request

FAA Says DFW Controllers Retrained Following August 30 Incident

It's understood when a pilot declares an emergency, they are often permitted to take extraordinary measures to ensure their safe arrival back on terra firma. That apparently wasn't the case when an American Airlines crew declared an emergency last year, and controllers denied the pilot's request to land against traffic at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports on August 30, 2006 the pilot of Flight 489 declared an emergency after gauges indicated the plane was running low on fuel, and requested permission to land on the nearest runway it could reach at DFW. That runway was 17-Center; airport traffic was taking off and landing to the north.

The FAA agrees what happened next, shouldn't have happened. An air traffic controller was ordered not to disrupt traffic flow at DFW, and told the emergency pilot to land on Runway 31-right. The 757 had to fly further south to enter the pattern.

"We know that we did something that we should have done differently," FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said. "We should have given the aircraft the closest runway as opposed to routing him in."

The plane landed safely... and maintenance crews later found the low-fuel reading was caused by a faulty sending unit. That meant the plane had plenty of fuel -- but a spokesman for American says that does nothing to downplay the significance of the blunder.

"Our pilots have to feel comfortable that they'll receive appropriate help if they ever encounter an emergency such as this one," said John Hotard. "It is a serious matter because the pilots didn't know what the situation was at the time when they declared the fuel emergency."

Herwig adds the FAA held a training session for area controllers and supervisors February 1, in response to the incident. That training has already paid dividends, he added... as controllers later had to deal with another emergency. That plane was allowed to land against traffic flow, which temporarily suspended operations at the airport.

Mike Conely, president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, laid blame for the August 30 incident squarely on the FAA supervisor who denied the emergency landing request.

"A controller doesn't have at his capability the power to completely shut everything," he said. "It would have been up to the supervisor to do that."

Conely also questioned the amount of training that actually took place in response to the incident.

"They don't put a lot of emphasis on it," Conely said. "They don't put a lot of emphasis on people attending, simply because of the shortage of controllers."

Herwig maintained the FAA placed proper emphasis on the situation, "and we discussed the different things that needed to be going on."



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