An air traffic controller, who had been temporarily relieved of duty last year after making an error that caused 2 planes to end up on a collision course, has once again been linked to yet another error that led to similar consequences.
Plane crash lawyers wonder whether it’s fair to protect the rights of federal air traffic controllers at the expense of passenger safety. The incident was reported at Mississippi’s Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on February 29. According to news reports, the Air Traffic Controller Robert Beck ordered a 4-engine turboprop Air Force plane to increase altitude from 2000 feet to about 3000 feet. That caused the Air Force plane to end up on a collision path with a twin-engine turbo plane being operated by the Homeland Security Department.
Fortunately, the traffic controller who Beck was relieving, was standing at the back of the radar room, and spotted the mistake. He alerted Beck, and the mistake was rectified quickly before a fatal collision occurred.
That was not the first error on Beck’s watch. Last year, Beck made a similar mistake when he allowed a regional airline and a small plane to come close to each other. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated that incident, and blamed the near- collision incident on Beck’s error.
At the time, National Transportation Safety Board investigators found that Beck had a history of disciplinary problems and professional deficiencies. There had been complaints that he frequently took shortcuts in phraseology, and failed to adhere to standard checklist procedures. In fact, the disciplinary action against Beck had caused him to be suspended a number of times over the past 5 years alone. His record includes disciplinary action for absenteeism, tardiness, and even an arrest for driving under the influence.
This is the record of a person who thousands of passengers every day depend on to ensure that they reach their destination safely. It’s unfortunate to see that that Beck was reinstated after his serious error last year. He has now been relieved of duty, but it’s fair to say that federal employee unions are likely to take up his cause. Aviation safety groups and plane crash attorneys are asking the all important question – is it fair to protect the employment rights of aviation employees, at the risk of endangering passenger safety? Some officials with the Federal Aviation Administration say that it is hard to take action against air traffic controllers, because of union concerns.