Controller suspended for sending a passenger plane to check on an unresponsive Cirrus

In the wake of the incident involving the sleeping air traffic controller at the Reagan National Airport in Washington DC, Terry Maxon has reported on the Dallas Morning News’ Airline Biz Blog about another incident involving an ATC controller (a supervisor) who was suspended after sending a Southwest Airlines plane to check on a nearby Cirrus SR22 over Florida that was not responding to radio calls. Specifically, what happened was:

The Southwest flight was 10 miles behind the Cirrus and flying at 12,000 feet; the Cirrus was maintaining an altitude of 11,000 feet.

"The controller asked the Southwest crew if they could check the cockpit of the Cirrus," the FAA said. "The Southwest crew agreed, was directed towards the Cirrus and reported the aircraft in sight. The Southwest pilots reported seeing two people in the cockpit."

The Southwest aircraft then continued on to Orlando while the Cirrus contacted ATC. However and as a result of the order, the Southwest plane got to close to the Cirrus and “compromised the safety of everyone involved” (according to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in a statement).

The FAA is now reviewing the air traffic procedures that were used and will make sure that everyone understands just what the protocols are for contacting an unresponsive aircraft. 

Terry then posted two updates noting that the National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident and that Southwest has suspended the pilots pending its own investigation.

I am not sure what the official procedures are for investigating an unresponsive aircraft in the USA or the UK/Europe for that matter – especially in the wake of 9/11. However, we want to ask you our readers what you think about what happened and how you would handled such a situation. Moreover, should the controller as well as the pilots involved (who were following the controller’s instructions) be suspended?

One Response to Controller suspended for sending a passenger plane to check on an unresponsive Cirrus

  1. Ward April 7, 2011 at 22:15 #

    Seems like an odd thing to do but if the SWA crew agreed, I would have to give them the benefit of the doubt since they did report the aircraft insight.

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