Were HPN Controllers on Break?

 - February 28, 2012, 4:03 PM

A number of photos and videos provided to Fox News in New York by a source that news organization refused to name, showed some White Plains air traffic controllers asleep in the tower cab. Other shots showed controllers using their cell phones in the cab. The unnamed source implied these activities took place when controllers should have been actively engaged in monitoring air traffic. An FAA source said HPN tower handled approximately 197,000 takeoffs and landings in 2011.

In a statement to AIN, FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator Laura Brown said, “The FAA does not allow controllers to sleep while performing assigned duties. In the interest of safety, on multiple occasions we asked Fox 5 to share its documentation of alleged misconduct, but the station refused.”

Another FAA spokesman added that the elevator has been broken since last summer “and is currently being repaired. The FAA and the controllers union reached an agreement that allows controllers to use the rear portion of the tower cab for breaks because the permanent break room is eight flights of stairs below.” Repair work on the elevator has apparently been delayed since last summer due to FAA funding issues.

The pace of the investigation picked up when the story reached the desk of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of N.Y. In a letter to Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, she said, “There is a pattern of questionable behavior by controllers at the Westchester County Airport which could jeopardize the safety of the flying public and may have contributed to previous accidents.”

FAA’s Brown said, “Earlier today, we reached out to Senator Gillibrand’s office and the Westchester Airport team to advise them that the FAA’s formal investigation is already underway.”