FAA Memo Defies Staffing Ability?
The unidentified manager of the Lexington tower was apparently trying to solve a staffing shortage by shifting responsibility for radar control of aircraft when Flight 5191 crashed off the end of the airport’s GA runway. According to The New York Times, the FAA issued a memo to managers nine months ago specifying that towers with operative radar consoles be staffed by a minimum of two controllers, one to monitor the radar and one to look out the windows. A single controller was on duty the morning of the crash, in seeming defiance of that rule, but it apparently wasn’t for lack of trying. Internal documents obtained by the Times reveal that the manager, for whatever reason, didn’t have the people to comply with the memo so he was trying to offload radar responsibility to an Indianapolis center that handles mainly high-altitude traffic. His request was turned down. After the crash, the FAA quickly assigned a second controller to the midnight shift at Lexington, even though the airport generally handles about six flights during that time period, some of them early-morning departures. After clearing the Comair flight to the correct runway, the lone controller on duty at Lexington turned his back to deal with some paperwork and the crew aboard the Comair flight lined up on the wrong runway.
Will That Be One Controller, Or Two?
The Lexington tragedy had reporters all over the country phoning their local airports trying to determine if such a catastrophe could happen in their town. In Akron, Ohio, the local paper discovered that Akron-Canton Regional Airport had only one set of eyes looking out for air traffic in the wee hours, but was assured by the FAA that it was OK. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said that at midnight, radar responsibility shifts to Cleveland Center. “If the radar isn’t up, there’s no reason for someone to be standing there,” he said. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Interestingly, Akron-Canton has about 12 flights during the early morning hours compared to Lexington’s six or so. But the powers that be decided its radar responsibilities could be deflected elsewhere. There are no scheduled arrivals after midnight at Akron-Canton and pre-dawn rush of three departures. Otherwise, the overnight traffic consists of cargo, charter and transient traffic.