What does it take to get fired by the FAA, the agency in charge of making sure the skies are safe for the flying public?
Apparently putting airplanes on near collision courses isn’t enough.
On Feb. 29, shortly after starting his 7 p.m. shift at the FAA radar facility at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi, controller Robert Beck put an Air Force C-130 transport jet on a converging course with a twin-engine turboprop. Beck had only those two planes to handle.
Luckily, the controller Beck had relieved noticed the mistake.
Last June, another Beck mistake caused a regional airliner and a small plane to come within 300 feet of colliding. Beck was disciplined then, but only because he didn’t disclose the incident when it occurred.
Beck’s former boss said he tried repeatedly last year to get Beck fired, but FAA officials ignored his requests.
“It is damn difficult to get rid of an employee for cause,” he said, noting that union officials exploit complex employee protection rules even when controllers are unfit.
The FAA recently introduced a new system for reporting mistakes that encourages controllers to disclose their errors. In return, the agency has agreed not to punish them as long as the errors aren’t due to negligence. The rationale: To get more information so problems can be spotted early.
Well and good, but safety comes first, and unfit controllers should be grounded out of service.