‘Shoestring staffing’ at radar facility closes busy airspace

The Federal Aviation Administration was forced to close several air corridors for 30 minutes, June 19, as a “desperation move” to avoid a serious safety risk when its “poor management and woeful staffing reached this breaking point” at Washington Center, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

One controller at the Leesburg, Virginia center, was “forced to do the job of two for four hours alone with nobody to relieve him, working two sectors of airspace at the end of a long shift that included forced overtime,” a NATCA news release said.

The closure, from 5:25 p.m. EDT to approximately 6 p.m., created the biggest impact on Raleigh-Durham, N.C., traffic but affected a large chunk of busy airspace extending north to southern New Jersey, south to the Carolinas and west to the middle of West Virginia, pilots and controllers said on June 22.

Washington Center is the nation’s third busiest air traffic control facility, handling more than 2.7 million flights a year, NATCA stated. The June 19 problem delayed many eastbound departures for an hour, when they were forced to wait on the ground at their airports. Flights already airborne were re-routed, “having the same fuel-burning, delay-inducing negative effect as if a giant thunderstorm covered eastern North Carolina,” the release said.

The controllers described the June 19 incident as “just the latest symptom of chronic management failures surrounding the FAA’s nearly two-year long effort to redesign the airspace boundaries that controllers work at the facility, shrinking the number of separate areas of jurisdiction from eight to seven.”

For information: Curt Johnson, NATCA Washington Center, 571-242-2660 or http://www.natca.org/

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