Washington Report: FAA plans changes for error reporting

 - June 9, 2008, 9:28 AM

In response to a report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general (IG) that revealed intentional misclassification of operational errors at the Dallas/Fort Worth Tracon, the FAA removed both the manager and assistant manager at the facility in late April and announced the agency will speed up deployment of the Traffic Analysis Review Program (TARP) at DFW.

Specifically, the DOT IG found that management at the DFW Tracon investigated operational errors and deviations but “routinely and intentionally” misclassified them as pilot errors or non-events. The report was prompted by whistleblower allegations that managers were covering up operational errors and deviations. The managers receive bonuses for low numbers of controller errors.

The IG found that between November 2005 and last July, Tracon managers misclassified 62 air traffic events as pilot deviation or non-events when in fact there were 52 operational errors and 10 operational deviations. Most involved airliners, although one involved a Learjet.

Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO), said the DFW Tracon’s incidence of operational errors and deviation misclassifications was higher than that of other large Tracons, 25 percent compared with 3 percent.

“It’s an issue of integrity to me,” Krakowski said. “I am personally committed to making sure the IG’s recommendations are implemented and that managers are held accountable.”

TARP, software that automatically detects losses of aircraft separation at terminal facilities, will be operational by the end of Fiscal Year 2008 (September 30) at DFW. In addition, the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service (ATSOS) has implemented unannounced on-site audits at the Tracon, requiring monthly reports to acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell.

More Oversight of Tracons

Krakowski said the FAA is implementing measures to ensure that misclassifications cannot happen anywhere else in the system. The FAA will establish a nationwide independent quality assurance position that will report directly to Robert Tarter, the recently appointed vice president of Safety Services for the ATO.

The quality assurance position will oversee incident reporting, make incident determinations and audit the data integrity of facility reports. Currently, responsibility for incident determination lies solely with the facility manager.

The FAA said this move increases accountability of the managers by adding senior-level oversight. The agency will also be accelerating the nationwide deployment of TARP by the end of next year.

The Safety Services unit is responsible for auditing safety and quality control in the ATO and facilitating safety performance and improvement. One of the unit’s main focuses is reducing the risk of runway hazards. It uses information gleaned from data, investigations and independent testing to identify risks. Safety Services is separate from the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety, which promotes aviation safety and monitors compliance with the FARs.

The Safety Services unit also serves as the liaison between the ATO and the agency’s ATSOS, which is part of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety and outside the ATO. The ATSOS provides oversight of ATO activities and approves safety standards, mitigation of safety risks and the safety management system.

Tarter is a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. Before taking over duties with the FAA in April, he was the mobilization assistant to the commander of the 1st Air Force, Air Combat Command, at Tyndall AFB, Fla.