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Full text of "Improving the safety of air traffic control at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport : FAA oversight : fourth report"



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Union Calendar 43 

100th Congress, 1st Session --------- House Report No. 100-55 



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IMPROVING THE SAFETY OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL 
AT CHICAGO'S O'HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: 
FAA OVERSIGHT 



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FOURTH REPORT 

BY THffi a " 

COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT 
OPERATIONS 

together with 
ADDITIONAL VIEWS 



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April 15, 1987.— Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
State of the Union and ordered to be printed 



71-544 



U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE 
WASHINGTON : 1987 



rat) 

HE- 
134 



COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS 
JACK BROOKS, Texas, Chairman 



JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan 
CARDISS COLLINS, Illinois 
GLENN ENGLISH, Oklahoma 
HENRY A. WAXMAN, California 
TED WEISS, New York 
MIKE SYNAR, Oklahoma 
STEPHEN L. NEAL, North Carolina 
DOUG BARNARD, Jr., Georgia 
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts 
TOM LANTOS, California 
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia 
MAJOR R. OWENS, New York 
EDOLPHUS TOWNS, New York 
JOHN M. SPRATT, Jr., South Carolina 
JOE KOLTER, Pennsylvania 
BEN ERDREICH, Alabama 
GERALD D. KLECZKA, Wisconsin 
ALBERT G BUSTAMANTE, Texas 
MATTHEW G. MARTINEZ, California 
THOMAS C. SAWYER, Ohio 
DAVID E. SKAGGS, Colorado 
LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER, New York 
BILL GRANT, Florida 



FRANK HORTON, New York 

ROBERT S. WALKER, Pennsylvania 

WILLIAM F. CLINGER, Jr., Pennsylvania 

AL McCANDLESS, California 

LARRY E. CRAIG, Idaho 

HOWARD C. NIELSON, Utah 

JOSEPH J. DioGUARDI, New York 

JIM LIGHTFOOT, Iowa 

BEAU BOULTER, Texas 

DONALD E. "BUZ" LUKENS, Ohio 

AMORY HOUGHTON, Jr., New York 

J. DENNIS HASTERT, Illinois 

JON L. KYL, Arizona 

ERNEST L. KONNYU, California 

JAMES M. INHOFE, Oklahoma 



William M. Jones, General Counsel 
Stephen M. Daniels, Minority Staff Director and Counsel 



Government Activities and Transportation Subcommittee 
CARDISS COLLINS, Illinois, Chairwoman 



MAJOR R. OWENS, New York 
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia 
JOE KOLTER, Pennsylvania 
GERALD D. KLECZKA, Wisconsin 
THOMAS C. SAWYER, Ohio 



JACK BROOKS, Texas 



HOWARD C. NIELSON, Utah 
J. DENNIS HASTERT, Illinois 
DONALD E. "BUZ" LUKENS, Ohio 



Ex Officio 

FRANK HORTON, New York 



John Galloway, Staff Director 

Cecelia Morton, Clerk 

Ken Salaets, Minority Professional Staff 



(II) 



LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL 



House of Representatives, 
Washington, DC, April 15, 1987. 
Hon. Jim Wright, 

Speaker of the House of Representatives, 
Washington, DC. 

Dear Mr. Speaker: By direction of the Committee on Govern- 
ment Operations, I submit herewith the committee's fourth report 
to the 100th Congress. The committee's report is based on a study 
made by its Government Activities and Transportation Subcommit- 
tee. 

Jack Brooks, Chairman. 

(in) 



CONTENTS 



Page 

I. Introduction 1 

II. National Transportation Safety Board investigation 2 

A. Staffing levels 3 

B. Supervisor selection process 4 

C. Controller recertification and training 4 

D. Failure to follow noise abatement procedures 5 

E. Flow control problems 6 

III. Federal Aviation Administration response 7 

IV. Discussion 8 

A. TheFAA 8 

B. TheNTSB 10 

V. Findings 13 

VI. Recommendations 13 

APPENDIXES 

Appendix 1. — Synopsis of ORD errors 1985 17 

Appendix 2. — Synopsis of ORD errors 1986 19 

VIEWS 

Additional views of Hon. J. Dennis Hastert 21 

(V) 



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Union Calendar No. 43 



100th Congress , 

1st Session HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 



Report 
100-55 



IMPROVING THE SAFETY OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL AT 
CHICAGO'S O'HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: FAA 
OVERSIGHT 



April 15, 1987. — Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of 
the Union and ordered to be printed 



Mr. Brooks, from the Committee on Government Operations, 
submitted the following 

FOURTH REPORT 

together with 
ADDITIONAL VIEWS 

BASED ON A STUDY BY THE GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES AND 
TRANSPORTATION SUBCOMMITTEE 

On April 7, 1987, the Committee on Government Operations ap- 
proved and adopted a report entitled 'Improving the Safety of Air 
Traffic Control at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport: FAA 
Oversight." The chairman was directed to transmit a copy to the 
Speaker of the House. 

I. Introduction 

This report of the Government Operations Committee on air traf- 
fic controller errors at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport fol- 
lows an investigation and February 27, 1987 hearing conducted by 
its Subcommittee on Government Activities and Transportation 
under the direction of subcommittee Chairwoman, Cardiss Collins. 

The subcommittee investigation followed a dramatic increase in 
reported controller errors and near collisions between commercial 
aircraft both on the ground and in the air above O'Hare. 

The report is based on testimony from air traffic controllers, the 
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transporta- 
tion Safety Board (NTSB), the General Accounting Office (GAO), a 



former commercial airline pilot/transportation reporter and the 
subcommittee's independent findings. 

II. National Transportation Safety Board Investigation 

There has been an alarming and unacceptably high level of re- 
ported FAA air traffic controller operational errors at Chicago's 
O'Hare International Airport. 1 

In 1986, there were 23 operational errors at O'Hare, a 65-percent 
increase over the 14 reported errors the previous year. 2 That in- 
crease occurred, moreover, in the face of a 13-percent decline in 
such errors nationwide. 3 By contrast, there were eight operational 
errors at Atlanta International Airport and seven at each Dallas/ 
Fort Worth and Los Angeles International Airports in 1986. 4 That 
amounts to approximately three times more errors at O'Hare than 
at those two other airports. Thus far in 1987 there have been three 
operational errors reported at O'Hare, the most recent having oc- 
curred February 10. 5 

As disturbing as those numbers are, moreover, it is apparent 
that not all controller errors at O'Hare are being reported. For ex- 
ample, an FAA prepared list and description of recent operational 
errors at O'Hare does not include a March 13, 1985 operational 
error that lead to the death of a pilot whose small commercial air- 
craft was blown over and crushed by the engine blasts of a 747. 6 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has also in- 
vestigated four recent controller errors at O'Hare involving com- 
mercial aircraft. The circumstances surrounding each of those inci- 
dents, as determined by the NTSB, are as follows: 7 

February 25, 1986.— On that date a United Airlines DC-8 travel- 
ling at 80 mph down a runway at O'Hare prior to takeoff narrowly 
avoided crashing into a 50-seat Air Wisconsin F-27 on final ap- 
proach for landing on an intersecting runway. The DC-8 captain 
saw the approaching Air Wisconsin aircraft and held his plane on 
the ground until the other aircraft crossed his departure path. The 
Air Wisconsin plane overflew the DC-8 near the intersection of the 
two runways, passing less than 150 feet above the DC-8. The DC-8 
captain reported that had he lifted off normally, the two planes 
would have collided. 

May 17, 1986.— Less than three months later, on May 17, 1986, a 
similar controller error resulted in a near-collision between two 
jets during takeoffs on intersecting runways. That near catastrophe 



1 An operational error is the term used to describe an air traffic controller error that results 
in two aircraft coming within less than the minimum permitted distance. 

2 FAA, "Synopsis of ORD [O'Hare International Airport] Errors 1985," and "Synopsis of ORD 
Errors 1986" reprinted as Appendixes 1 and 2. 

3 Testimony of Joseph T. Nail, Member National Transportation Safety Board before the Sub- 
committee on Government Activities and Transportation Subcommittee of the Committee on 
Government Operations, House of Representatives, 100th Congress, 1st Session (February 27, 
1987), "Near Misses and Air Traffic Control Issues in Chicago," p. 4. Hereinafter referred to as 
Hearing. 

4 Hearing testimony of Joseph T. Nail, Member National Transportation Board, p. 1. Hearing. 
The number of operations at Atlanta, is comparable to O'Hare. Dallas/Fort Worth and Los An- 
geles each handle approximately 75 percent of the traffic at O'Hare. 

5 Nail testimony, p. 2. 

6 "Synopsis of ORD Errors 1985," Appendix 1. 

7 The summaries of the four errors are based on Nail testimony, NTSB Safety Recommenda- 
tions A-86-44 through -46 (May 27, 1986) and NTSB Safety Recommendations, A-87-3 through 
-7 (February 6, 1987). 



involved a U.S. Air DC-9 with 116 passengers and crew and an 
American Airlines 727 with 109 passengers and crew. The first offi- 
cer of the DC-9, who was piloting the aircraft, reported that he ob- 
served the American Airlines plane taking off on an intersecting 
runway and that the two planes were on a collision course. The 
pilot lifted his plane off the ground at a slower than normal air- 
speed and banked slightly to the right to avoid a collision as his 
plane flew directly over the top of the American Airlines plane, in- 
flicting minor wind damage to the plane below. 

June 29, 1986.— This incident involved an Air Wisconsin F-27 
and a United 727. The Air Wisconsin flight had departed from 
O'Hare on a northeast course. Within minutes, the United 727 was 
cleared for takeoff with a different heading. When the Air Wiscon- 
sin flight was one mile northeast of the airport it was directed by a 
controller to turn right, which placed it on the same course as the 
trailing United plane. The United jet then began to overtake the 
slower turbo prop plane until the error was detected by an auto- 
matic conflict alarm system. 

July 2, 1986. — This operational error resulted after two passenger 
jets had been cleared by different controllers to depart O'Hare on 
separate runways early in the morning. The error occurred because 
the two controllers did not coordinate with each other. One control- 
ler cleared a United 737 to fly a noise abatement heading after 
takeoff while another controller cleared a Western Airlines 727 for 
takeoff with an immediate left turn, under a normal non-noise 
abatement departure procedure. As a consequence, the two jets 
came within only 2,600 feet of each other horizontally and 400 feet 
vertically, two miles west of the airport. 

Following the June 29 and July 2, 1986 controller errors, and 
with reported controller operational errors at O'Hare running at 
the rate of one every 13 days, 8 the NTSB initiated an investigation. 
The results of that inquiry and a series of recommendations were 
issued by the NTSB February 6, 1987. 9 

The NTSB investigation found serious fault with air traffic con- 
troller qualifications and staffing levels, supervision, flow control, 
controller requalification after being involved in an error, and 
quality assurance and training at O'Hare. 

A. STAFFING LEVELS 

In reviewing staffing levels, the NTSB determined that O'Hare 
was short of senior, full performance level controllers (FPLs). That 
created what subcommittee Chairwoman Collins has called a 
"Catch-22 situation." 

Too few controllers means that less experienced control- 
lers cannot be given the time to upgrade their skills, while 
the full performance level controllers are forced to work 
excessive periods under overly stressful conditions. That, 
in turn, discourages controllers from transferring to Chica- 
go. Additionally, supervisors are forced to fill in as control- 
lers in neglecting their supervisory duties. 10 



8 Nail testimony, p. 4. 

9 NTSB Safety Recommendations (February 6, 1987.) 

10 Hearing, p. 3 A. 



According to the NTSB in its February 1987 report: 

The low number of FPL controllers at O'Hare required 
the facility to make several adjustments in order to meet 
their [sic] operational shift coverage. One of these adjust- 
ments required both facility staff specialists and staff offi- 
cers to work operational positions for a substantial amount 
of time. For example, during June 1986, staff specialists 
and staff officers spent 37.9 percent and 17.7 percent of 
their time, respectively, working on operational positions. 
Also, on-the-job training (OJT) had been curtailed to pro- 
vide adequate position coverage, particularly during the 
summer and other prime time vacation periods. Finally, 
these staffing problems required many controllers to work 
at their positions for excessive time periods before receiv- 
ing a relief break. * l , 

B. SUPERVISOR SELECTION PROCESS 

During its investigation of the June 29 and July 2 controller 
errors, the NTSB learned that the same control tower cab supervi- 
sor was on duty when both incidents occurred and that he failed to 
recognize either operational error as it was developing. The cab su- 
pervisor was a newly appointed tower supervisor who had been cer- 
tified for tower work only two weeks previously. According to the 
NTSB, the supervisor's "previous experience was as a controller at 
the Chicago Air Route Traffic Center and more recently, for 8 
years, he was a controller at the O'Hare terminal radar control fa- 
cility . . . He had had no previous FAA tower cab experience. " [Em- 
phasis added.] 12 

As further stated by the NTSB: 

[T]he supervisor should have been more effective in 
monitoring the overall safety of operations during the time 
that both operational errors occurred. His performance 
probably was attributable to his limited experience in the 
tower cab. The Safety Board is concerned that this individ- 
ual was selected as a tower cab supervisor at the nation's 
busiest airport without any prior tower cab experience. [Em- 
phasis added.] 13 

C. CONTROLLER RECERTIFICATION AND TRAINING 

Again, during the course of its investigation of the June 29 and 
July 2, 1986 incidents, the NTSB determined that the controller 
who was involved in the June 29 error was also involved in the 
May 17, 1986 operational error. Appropriately after the May 17 
operational error the controller was removed from operational duty 
and given 6V2 hours of over-the-shoulder training by his immediate 
supervisor over a 10-day period during heavy and very heavy traf- 
fic. The controller was subsequently tested and recertified for 
return to operational duty on May 27, 1986. 



1 * NTSB, Safety Recommendations (February 6, 1987), p. 4. 

12 Ibid., p. 5. 

13 Ibid., p. 6. 



In less than a month after his return to duty, however, the same 
controller figured prominently in the June 29 operational error. 
Yet, inexplicably after that second error the controller received 
only lVfe hours of additional training by a nonsupervisor before 
being returned to duty. According to the NTSB: "The controller 
was not counseled about the incident by any of the facility's quality 
assurance and training staff, and iiis immediate supervisor was not 
involved in any part of his recertification, ,, contrary to FAA regu- 
lations. 14 

In reviewing the training records of the two controllers involved 
in the July 2 incident that resulted from confusion over noise 
abatement procedures, the NTSB determined that both controllers 
were returned to operational duty within a few hours after brief, 
informal performance reviews. 

In discussing the June 29 and July 2 operational errors the 
NTSB expressed concern that: 

[T]he immediate supervisor of each controller did not 
participate in the recertification process; the facility's 
quality assurance and training staff did not participate in 
any of the recertifications; FPL controllers conducted over- 
the-shoulder evaluations instead of appropriate superviso- 
ry personnel. . . . 

In one case, the area manager conducted the recertifica- 
tion actions; in another case, the controller received only 
1 V2 hours of training after his second operational error in 
a month, while in another case both controllers were re- 
certified only a few hours after the operational errors oc- 
curred. 15 

D. FAILURE TO FOLLOW NOISE ABATEMENT PROCEDURES 

As previously mentioned, the July 2, 1986 controller error was 
caused when one controller directed an aircraft to follow airport 
noise abatement procedures while another controller ignored that 
requirement in directing a second aircraft on a potential collision 
course while an inexperienced supervisor was oblivious to what 
was happening. 

Pursuant to an agreement reached with the City of Chicago, the 
FAA requires the use of noise abatement procedures from 10:00 
p.m. to 7:00 a.m. unless suspended by a supervisor due to heavy 
traffic or safety considerations. Basically, FAA procedures require 
the use of certain arrival and departure runways and specific head- 
ings to be used upon takeoff. Although traffic was light, the mid- 
night supervisor, who was working the north and south control 
tower positions combined, had stopped using noise abatement pro- 
cedures before being relieved at 6:38 a.m. One day shift controller 
proceeded to work the north position and the other worked the 
south position. The error occurred shortly after they assumed their 
positions. One day shift relief controller directed a United plane on 
a noise abatement heading while the second controller ordered the 



Ibid., p. 8. 
Ibid., p. 9. 



Western Airlines flight on a non-noise abatement heading, which 
intersected the United course. 

The confusion was a direct consequence of the FAA's practice of 
suspending noise abatement procedures at various times each 
morning prior to the prescribed 7:00 a.m. cut off time. 

That was not the only incident that involved the FAA's violation 
of Chicago noise abatement procedures. In March 1985, similar neg- 
ligence contributed to the death of the pilot and sole occupant of a 
small commercial aircraft that was turned over and crushed while 
taxiing behind the engine blasts of a 747. 

In that case, a 747 was permitted by the O'Hare control tower to 
"run-up" its engines as part of a mechanical test in a special test 
area. That run-up pad was close to a taxiway that was supposed to 
be closed to other aircraft during such tests. A controller, however, 
directed the air taxi to proceed to a hanger by way of the supposed- 
ly "closed" runway. The smaller aircraft came within 85 feet of the 
rear of the 747 and was flipped over by the engine blasts, crushing 
the cabin and killed the pilot. Subsequent inquiry revealed that the 
747 was facing in a southwesterly direction during the test, al- 
though the Airport Noise Directive required the plane to be facing 
the opposite direction, to the northeast. Had the larger plane been 
headed in the correct direction the accident would not have oc- 
curred, despite the controller having assigned the small craft to the 
wrong taxiway. 

In spite of an order from the O'Hare Air Traffic Control manag- 
er directing the positioning of aircraft during engine "runups", 
subsequent inquiry revealed that supervisory control tower person- 
nel had a "hands-off policy [towards] directing aircraft on run-up 
pads to face in any particular direction . . ." 16 

E. FLOW CONTROL PROBLEMS 

During its investigation of the June 29 and July 2 operational 
errors, NTSB investigators "became concerned about heavy air 
traffic demands at O'Hare with regard to controller performance 
and workload." 17 

The FAA has two systems designed to prevent unsafe levels of 
traffic at major airports. Under the FAA's Performance Measure- 
ment System, standards have been developed for major airports, in- 
cluding O'Hare, to set an airport's hourly capacity (acceptance 
rate) of traffic. That measure is determined on the basis of certain 
statistical data, including runway configurations, number of air- 
craft handled and traffic mix. The resulting acceptance rate varies 
according to wind and weather conditions. A random check by 
NTSB investigations determined that the applicable capacity stand- 
ards were "never significantly exceeded" at O'Hare. 18 Neverthe- 
less, the NTSB determined that "the capabilities of typical air traf- 
fic controllers to safely handle various traffic flow complexities are 
not directly considered [by the FAA] during the development of 
these standards." x 9 



16 NTSB, Factual Report Aviation Accident, March 13, 1985 (July 30, 1986), p. 2b. 

17 NTSB Safety Recommendations (February 6, 1987), p. 6. 

18 Ibid., p. 7. 

19 Ibid. 



Additionally, O'Hare Airport has been designated a high density 
traffic airport by the FAA. That has resulted in the FAA's estab- 
lishment of a High Density Rule that limits the maximum number 
of hourly takeoffs and landings that may be reserved for certain 
categories of users. In 1973, the High Density Rule for O'Hare was 
originally set at a maximum of 135 operations per hour. Following 
a formal action by United Airlines in 1981 to rescind the High 
Density Rule, the following year the FAA "increased the quota to 
155 operations per hour at O'Hare based upon 'airport and air traf- 
fic system changes since the rule was first promulgated,' rather 
than rescind the High Density Rule." 20 

In concluding its investigation of the June 29 and July 2, 1986 
controller errors at O'Hare and its determination as to the under- 
lying causes of those near disasters, the NTSB recommended that: 

(1) The FAA implement an improved and more effective 
air traffic controller training program at O'Hare to bring 
additional development controllers to a full performance 
level rating in a timely manner. 

(2) The FAA review its personnel selection and promo- 
tion programs at O'Hare to assure that prospective tower 
supervisors have prior tower experience before becoming 
tower supervisors. 

(3) The FAA review the methodology used to establish 
the Engineered Performance Standards and High Density 
Rule at O'Hare "to ensure that air traffic controller staff- 
ing levels and performance limitations are accounted for 
appropriately and that air traffic controllers team capabili- 
ties are not exceeded during peak traffic periods." 

(4) The FAA review its Quality Assurance and Training 
Program at O'Hare. 

(5) The FAA make certain that air traffic controllers at 
O'Hare, who have been involved in an operational error, 
"are counseled, trained and recertified" as required by 
FAA regulations. 21 

III. Federal Aviation Administration Response 

Under law the FAA must respond to NTSB safety recommenda- 
tions within 90 days in stating what actions (if any) it plans to take 
in response to each recommendation. In the case of the NTSB Feb- 
ruary 6 report on O'Hare air traffic control, the FAA response is 
due no later than May 7, 1987. 

Within less than a week after the release of the highly critical 
NTSB report, Paul K. Bohr, the then Regional Director of the FAA 
Great Lakes Region, which includes Chicago, issued his own four- 
page rebuttal. 22 In reviewing staffing, Mr. Bohr maintained that 
the FAA had already "taken significant actions to increase the 
number of personnel" at O'Hare. According to Mr. Bohr, since No- 
vember 1, 1986, the FAA has approved the transfer of an additional 



20 Ibid. 

21 Ibid., pp. 10-11. 

22 Statement of Paul K. Bohr, Regional Director, Great Lakes Region, FAA (February 12, 
1987). Hereinafter cited a Bohr statement. 



8 

13 controllers to O'Hare, all of whom were scheduled to begin work 
within the next three months, according to Mr. Bohr. Additionally, 
the FAA was said to have revitalized a recruiting and screening 
process "unique" to O'Hare where controllers are brought to the 
facility for a try out without jeopardizing their position at their old 
facility. 23 

Of the five NTSB recommendations, the potentially most far 
reaching was that the FAA assure that "air traffic controller team 
capabilities are not exceeded during peak traffic periods". That 
suggests the possible need to reduce airport "rush hour traffic" for 
safety reasons. 

The FAA Regional Director's rejection of that proposal was brief 
and to the point. There was no need to even consider the possible 
need to reduce peak traffic because: 

Daily traffic loads are controlled by traffic management 
process. These processes include consideration for airport 
conditions, runway configurations, controller availability, 
weather, and many other factors which require day-to-day 
and sometimes hour-to-hour decision making. 24 

Additionally, in minimizing the NTSB findings, Mr. Bohr argued 
that the FAA at O'Hare had already taken steps "to improve the 
Quality Assurance and Training Programs." According to Bohr, 
those actions included: 

[Management and supervisory emphasis on quality as- 
surance and training. 

[A planned increase in] permanent staffing in the qual- 
ity assurance and training function from 2 to 10. 25 

IV. Discussion 

A. THE FAA 

The NTSB February 1987 findings on safety deficiencies regard- 
ing O'Hare Airport traffic control deeply concern the Committee. 
What emerged from that study is not a pattern of individual con- 
troller error per se, but a pattern of poor coordination and commu- 
nication between controllers and a seemingly lax attitude concern- 
ing required or common sense operating procedures. That in turn 
suggests poor management and faulty system controls. Of particu- 
lar importance are the NTSB's criticisms regarding management's 
failure to recertify controllers involved in operational errors in ac- 
cordance with FAA regulations and its failure to remedy previous- 
ly noted deficiencies, particularly with regard to quality assurance 
and training. 

In May 1985, for example, a Management and Operational Effec- 
tiveness Evaluation was conducted at O'Hare by the quality assur- 
ance staff from FAA Washington headquarters. The resulting 
report identified numerous problems, including systemic deficien- 



23 Ibid., pp. 1-2. Given the demands of working at O'Hare, only controllers who have previous- 
ly attained a full performance level rating at another facility are currently considered for trans- 
fer to O'Hare. 

24 Bohr statement, p. 4. 

25 Ibid., pp. 2-3. 



cies regarding nonstandard coordination between controllers, use of 
improper air traffic control phraseology, incomplete position relief 
briefings and transfer of position responsibility. Additionally, con- 
trollers did not always obtain acknowledgment from a pilot that 
another aircraft was in sight prior to instructing the pilot to main- 
tain visual separation. Regarding quality assurance, the inspection 
report noted flatly: "The facility has not implemented a quality as- 
surance program as required" by FAA regulations. 26 

A year later in the spring of 1986, an Operational Error Preven- 
tion Evaluation was conducted by the FAA Great Lakes Regional 
Office. The evaluation found that many of the previous year's prob- 
lems at O'Hare persisted. In addition, the evaluation noted that 
crew briefings on previous operational errors were conducted as 
late as four to six months after the error occurred, training folders 
were as much as six months out of date and did not include the 
cause of previous operational errors nor document the remedial 
training given controllers who committed such errors. Further, the 
report found that controllers received poor on-the-job training on 
proper coordination between controllers. 27 

An internal O'Hare management/employee report completed a 
few months later strongly reinforced previous criticisms concerning 
controller training. According to that August 1986 report, 80 per- 
cent of the controllers interviewed saw training as lacking "consist- 
ency and direction": 

Training technique varies widely from crew to crew with 
no consistent standards for position certification. Although 
training is not stopped during prime leave period, it is re- 
duced. Training specialists as well as other qualified staff 
personnel are still used as operational coverage which af- 
fects continuity. 

Additionally, that third report emphasized, among other issues, 
that: 

. . . Not all persons performing OJT [on-the-job train- 
ing] are qualified or talented in this area. 

. . . Supervision of the training process is lax. 

. . . No facility standards [exist] for position certifica- 
tion. 28 

This Committee shares the Safety Board's concern that problems 
identified in 1985 had not been corrected a year later. 

As noted by the Safety Board, "many, if not all of these deficien- 
cies" were contributing factors to the four operational errors that 
the Safety Board investigated at O'Hare during 1986. These same 
problems were also involved in several of the other 10 operational 
errors that have occurred at O'Hare from January 1 to July 2, 
1986. 29 



26 L. Lane Speck, Acting Manager Quality Assurance Staff, "Managerial and Operational Ef- 
fectiveness Evaluation— O'Hare Tower, May 13-17, 1985" (August 6, 1985). 

27 Manager, Quality Assurance Staff, "Operational Error Prevention Evaluation, O'Hare 
Tower, April 28-May 8, 1986" (May 16, 1986). 

28 Chairman Evaluation Team, "Internal Evaluation of O'Hare" (August 1, 1986). 

29 NTSB Safety Recommendations (February 6, 1987), p. 10. 



10 

In particular, most of the deficiencies reported by the FAA eval- 
uation teams and the NTSB, which have figured prominently in 
operational errors at O'Hare, are traceable to poor quality assur- 
ance and training. Yet having established a quality assurance pro- 
gram following the 1985 evaluation, FAA management did not ade- 
quately staff that important function. Again, according to the 
NTSB: 

There is no standardized oversight of the quality of per- 
formance of the controllers and the controller initial and 
recurrent training is ineffective. The Safety Board learned 
that the staff assigned to the program were routinely 
being used to provide operational shift coverage. There 
were four individuals assigned to quality assurance and 
training at O'Hare — the assistant manager for training 
and three quality assurance and training specialists; how- 
ever, they were not able to perform their assigned duties. 
One specialist was detailed to the Regional Office full-time 
to process ATC academy graduates assigned to O'Hare, 
and another specialist was used 40 hours per week to work 
operational control positions. The remaining two special- 
ists also were used to meet shift coverage about 25 percent 
of their available time. Clearly, these staff members were 
not being used to make the quality assurance and training 
program effective and efficient. 30 

Just as the FAA, as noted above, did not effectively utilize its 
training and quality assurance staff, the Committee has reason to 
suspect that controllers also are not being effectively utilized. For 
example, as the 1985 FAA internal evaluation noted: "A survey of 
the facility traffic operations revealed that traffic for Saturday and 
Sunday is approximately 23% less than the traffic Monday through 
Friday. [Yet] [t]he facility [tower] staffing level remains the same 
for all seven days of the week." 31 

B. THE NTSB 

The Committee appreciates the contribution of the NTSB's Feb- 
ruary 1987 report in bringing to light important systemic deficien- 
cies in FAA's air traffic control system at O'Hare. Yet, the Com- 
mittee is troubled by the Safety Board's failure to identify and ad- 
dress those issues in a more timely fashion. 

The Committee notes that many of the problems addressed by 
the NTSB in its February 1987 report figured in the previously dis- 
cussed March 1985 fatality that involved an air taxi aircraft that 
was crushed after being thrown upside down by the blasts of a 747. 
That accident precipitated an NTSB staff investigation and acci- 
dent report which was never forwarded to Safety Board Members 
for consideration and which was not completed until July 30, 1986, 
19 months after the accident. That delay is particularly trouble- 
some given that the NTSB investigators on the scene appeared to 



30 Ibid. 

31 L. Lane Speck, "Managerial and Operational Effectiveness Evaluation — O'Hare Tower, 
May 13-17, 1985" (August 6, 1985). 



11 

have completed their work in a timely fashion, less than 90 days 
after the accident. 32 

The staff investigation of the March, 1985 blowover disclosed the 
same type of overall deficiencies that were subsequently acted upon 
by the NTSB Board members two years later in their February 
1987 report following a series of subsequent controller errors. 

Specifically, the investigation of the March 13, 1985 taxiway fa- 
tality revealed that although four controllers were assigned control 
tower duty that night midnight to 8:00 a.m. that: 

Only two controllers worked the cab at one time. While 
two controllers worked the cab two controllers were in the 
study room. 33 

When the two controllers returned from the study room to re- 
lieve their counterparts at 2:40 a.m. the controller in charge was 
advised that the 747 was already positioned on the run-up pad. 
Nevertheless, a short while later the relief controller cleared the 
air taxi to proceed along an adjacent taxiway where it was de- 
stroyed by the engine blasts of the 747. 

Post accident interviews conducted by the NTSB invetigators ap- 
proximately one week later revealed the following: 

Controller 1. — This full performance level controller directed the 
small aircraft to proceed along the bypass taxiway in violation of 
local FAA airport regulations which placed that taxiway off limits 
to traffic while another aircraft was conducting engine run-ups at a 
nearby pad reserved for that purpose. 

According to Controller 1: 

a. Upon arriving in the tower he received a relief brief- 
ing from controller 2 which included information on the 
747 engine runup. 

b. The assigned taxi route was selected as the most expe- 
ditious route to the hanger. 

c. He observed that the 747 was facing south but did not 
know that this violated local FAA airport regulations. 

d. He had never been advised prior to the accident, nor 
was he aware, that the bypass taxiway could not be used 
when an engine test was underway. 

Controller 2. — Controller 2 was a full performance level control- 
ler. He was the controller in charge prior to being relieved by con- 
troller 1. Controller 2 recalled briefing controller 1 but could not 
recall whether the high power 747 run-up was part of the briefing. 

When questioned by NTSB investigators a week after the acci- 
dent concerning his knowledge of the restricted use of the bypass 
taxiway during run-ups, he accurately described the order. When 
asked when he had last reviewed that order he replied "approxi- 
mately ten minutes ago." Further questioning revealed that the 
FAA O'Hare Deputy Manager had instructed controller 2 to review 
the order prior to being interviewed by the NTSB investigators. 



32 NTSB Bureau of Technology, "Air Traffic Control Factual Report of Investigation: March 
13, 1985" (June 2, 1985). 

33 NTSB, "Factual Report Aviation: March 13, 1985 Accident" (July 30, 1986), p. 2a. As, 
always other controllers were at work in the radar room at the time directing traffic in the 
vicinity of O'Hare. 



12 

Therefore, controller 2's "level of knowledge at the time of the acci- 
dent," thus "could not be determined." 34 

Significantly, the Deputy Manager denied having instructed con- 
troller 2 to review the order in question prior to the interview. 35 

Controller 3. — Controller 3 was a developmental controller who 
was only certified to transmit routine messages to aircraft. As 
such, she was not authorized to issue movement instructions to any 
aircraft nor direct ground control traffic. Voice recordings re- 
vealed, however, that controller 3 handled some ground traffic 
before and immediately after the accident and had not signed the 
ground control log. Accordingly, with two of the controllers as- 
signed tower duty that night away from their posts and with a de- 
velopmental controller in the tower, who was not authorized to 
direct aircraft, the remaining controller on actual duty was left to 
work four positions at the time of the accident — inbound and out- 
bound ground control, takeoffs and landings. The NTSB investiga- 
tors did not pursue whether that typical scheduling arrangement 
contributed to the accident. Nor, apparently did the NTSB learn 
that this was not the first engine run-up accident at O'Hare that 
occurred under similar circumstances. 

Taken together, the 1985 NTSB staff investigation, although not 
fully and vigorously pursued, pointed to the following examples of 
lax training and adherence to mandated procedures, the hallmark 
of the subsequent 1986 controller errors which the Safety Board 
subsequently addressed: 

... A full performance level controller lacked even a 
perfunctory knowledge of relevant FAA airport regula- 
tions concerning the positioning of aircraft during engine 
run-ups and the use of an adjacent taxiway. 

... A high ranking FAA O'Hare air traffic control su- 
pervisor reportedly sought to coach a second full perform- 
ance level controller concerning those regulations prior to 
his being interviewed by the NTSB while subsequently de- 
nying having done so. 

. . . FAA supervisory personnel routinely ignored an 
FAA directive concerning the proper positioning of aircraft 
conducting engine run-ups. 

... A developmental control shared duties on a position 
that she was not qualified to work. 

. . . FAA management in assigning four controllers to 
work the late night shift regularly permitted two control- 
lers to be on "break" throughout the night so that on the 
night of the accident a controller worked four positions 
when paired with a developmental controller who was not 
certified to work any of those positions. 

In the view of the Committee, the NTSB in not developing and 
pursuing its 1985 staff findings which pointed to major systemic de- 
ficiencies at the nation's busiest airport, delayed for a year and 
one-half the initiation of Board recommendations to improve the 



34 NTSB, Bureau of Technology, "Air Traffic Control Factual Report of Investigation: March 
13, 1985" (June 2, 1985), p. 4. 

35 Ibid. 



13 

safety of air traffic control at O'Hare. Significantly, the controller 
who claimed that he had no knowledge of engine run-up noise re- 
strictions and who directed the small aircraft to within 85 feet of 
the 747, was involved in the May 17 and June 29, 1986 operational 
errors that were later reviewed by the Safety Board. (The Safety 
Board did not disclose that fact in its February, 1987 report.) 

One does not have to accept all of the NTSB's delayed recom- 
mendations to determine the existence of serious safety problems 
at the O'Hare air traffic control facility. That one plane passed less 
than 150 feet over the top of another plane heading down a runway 
prior to takeoff is bad enough. For essentially the same thing to 
occur about 90 days later, causing the blast from one plane to 
damage the other, is more evidence of a serious safety problem. To 
note that there were no less than 23 reported operational errors at 
O'Hare in 1986, is to restate the obvious. 

V. Findings 

Based on the record compiled by its Subcommittee on Govern- 
ment Activities and Transportation and its review of that record, 
the Committee finds the following with respect to the safety of 
FAA air traffic control at Chicago O'Hare International Airport: 

(1) Reported controller errors at O'Hare Airport in- 
creased from 14 in 1985 to 23 in 1986. 

(2) The increase in reported controller errors at O'Hare 
occurred in the context of a 13-percent decline in such 
errors nationwide. 

(3) Recent controller errors at O'Hare potentially could 
have led to the death of possibly scores of persons. 

(4) The controller error rate at O'Hare, on its face, is evi- 
dence of an unsatisfactory and unsettling level of air traf- 
fic safety at O'Hare. 

(5) The work of the GAO, the NTSB and the Subcommit- 
tee on Government Activities and Transportation has re- 
vealed serious problems at O'Hare in terms of staffing 
levels, training, controller recertification following an 
error, quality assurance and management. 

(6) The FAA did not respond in an adequate nor timely 
fashion to the problems at O'Hare as reported by its own 
in-house evaluators and as underscored by the subsequent 
increase in controller errors. 

(7) The NTSB was remiss in not following through on an 
investigation that it commenced in the spring of 1985 fol- 
lowing the death of a pilot whose plane was blown over by 
the blasts from a nearby 747. That in turn contributed to a 
delay in seeking to rectify conditions that led to subse- 
quent controller errors at O'Hare. 

VI. Recommendations 

The Committee is aware that last September the FAA at O'Hare 
prepared an "Action Plan" to cover 12 issues that surfaced during 
its recent spate of controller errors, portions of which were sched- 
uled for implementation prior to the February 1987 NTSB report. 



14 

Short of a lengthy on-site review, the Committee has no immediate 
means of determining the effectiveness of that plan. Its existence, 
however, has enabled the FAA to characterize the subsequent 
NTSB report as "outdated." The Committee hopes that to be the 
case. However, the Committee questions whether an FAA manage- 
ment that permitted such problems to arise in the first instance 
can be exclusively relied upon to remedy them. 

Accordingly, the Committee's primary recommendation concerns 
the need for the FAA in Washington to demonstrate a willingness 
and ability to assume an increased responsibility for a safe and effi- 
cient air traffic control system at O'Hare Airport. In light of the 
record number of controller errors at O'Hare and the potential 
deaths of scores of persons in the aftermath of certain of those 
errors, the FAA cannot afford to continue its laissez faire approach 
to air traffic control problems at O'Hare Airport. 

To that end, the Committee urges the FAA Administrator to ap- 
point a high level review board from outside the Great Lakes 
Region to perform an in-depth review of air traffic control at 
O'Hare and to report to the Administrator within 120 days. Specifi- 
cally, that review group should examine such issues as controller 
staffing levels, training, workload and overall level of expertise. 
Additionally, the review should examine quality assurance and 
controller error prevention programs. 

In recommending an Administrator's Review, the Committee ap- 
preciates the need to increase the number of controllers at O'Hare 
and the percentage of full performance level controllers. Neverthe- 
less, the Committee cautions that the problem at O'Hare is not 
simply one of too few controllers. None of the controller errors re- 
viewed by the NTSB or discussed in this report occurred during pe- 
riods of heavy traffic. Indeed, the majority of controller errors at 
O'Hare have occurred during light or moderate traffic. As such, the 
primary problems at O'Hare are those of poor supervision and 
training in an atmosphere of apparent laxity and inattention to 
detail. 

The key to improved air traffic safety at O'Hare does not, there- 
fore, admit to facile solutions in terms of merely increasing control- 
lers or possibly reducing flights. The problems are deeper in point- 
ing to an air traffic control system that has been badly managed. 

Therefore, to improve the safety of air traffic control at O'Hare 
International Airport in Chicago, the Committee recommends that: 

(1) The FAA Administrator appoint an Administrator's 
Review Board to examine the FAA's air traffic control 
system at O'Hare International Airport and to monitor the 
implementation of the FAA's September 1986 " Action 
Plan" to improve safety at that facility. 

(2) In conducting that review the Administrator's Review 
Board should elicit testimony from interested parties in 
public session. Individual controllers should be encouraged 
to participate with no fear of reprisals. 

(3) The Administrator's Review Board report to the Ad- 
ministrator with recommendations for improving the 
safety of air traffic control at O'Hare within 120 days of its 
formation. 



15 

(4) The FAA Administrator report to the Committee 
within 45 days of receipt of the Review Board report con- 
cerning his acceptance or rejection of the Board's recom- 
mendations. 



APPENDIXES 



APPENDIX 1.— SYNOPSIS OF ORD ERRORS 1985 

February 6, 1985 — The controller descended American 114 to 
8,000 feet, the pilot read back descending to 7,000 feet. The control- 
ler did not catch the mistake and the American flight passed 
within 400 feet vertically and % miles horizontally of a Brittaire 
734. 

February 27. 1985 — Midway 388 departed Midway airport, climb- 
ing to 3,000 feet. N 200DK departed Gary, Indiana, climbing to 
2,000 feet. The controller mis-identified N200DK, and climbed the 
aircraft to 3,000 feet. The two aircraft passed within 200 feet verti- 
cally and .8 miles horizontally. 

March 28, 1985— American 252 and N1125M were both at 5,000 
feet. The south departure controller allowed American 252 to enter 
the south satellite airspace without coordination. American 252 
passed one-half mile behind N1125M. 

April 4, 1985 — American 252 was on arrival to ORD runway 9L, 
United 725 was departing runway 4L. American 252 executed a go 
around, passing within 50 feet vertical and 1650 feet behind United 
725. The local controller was providing visual separation, however 
changed both aircraft to departure control. This action negated 
visual separation. 

May 8, 1985— N822CA was on a vector to Midway at 4,000 feet. 
N4114H departed Midway assigned 4,000 feet. The departure 
should have been restricted to 3,000 feet. The aircraft passed 
within two miles of each other. 

June 30, 1985— The ORD ARTS failed, and the controller forgot 
Northwest flight 458, who continued southbound through the local- 
izer course passing one mile behind United 956, and 500 feet above 
the other aircraft. 

July 3, 1985 — American 160 was on base leg 13 miles southeast of 
ORD at 3,500 feet. The departure controller climbed DAW 702 off 
of Midway through the altitude of American 160. DAW 702 passed 
1/2 miles behind and 600 feet above American 160. 

July 3, 1985 — American 321 and Northwest 452 were on vectors 
to ORD. The controller didn't recall descending American 321, who 
passed within lVfc miles horizontal and 100 feet vertically of Ameri- 
can 321. 

July 23, 1985— Republic 727 was on vectors to runway 14L at 
ORD. The controller assumed he had given Republic 727 a heading 
to join the localizer, which he had not. Republic 727 passed V2 mile 
behind and 600 feet above United 916. 

July 27, 1985— United 268 passed within 800 feet vertically and 
IV2 miles horizontally of American 637. The controller had issued 

(17) 



18 

United 268 a clearance to descend, and then told the aircraft to ex- 
pedite. United 628, also on the frequency took the clearance. The 
controller did not catch the read back by the wrong aircraft. 

October 17, 1985 — N971LL was unbound to DuPage from Meigs, 
decending from 4,000 to 3,000 feet. The departure controller sent 
Midway 347 over to the other controller at 3,000 feet, conflicting 
with N971LL. No coordination was completed. Separation was 100 
feet vertically and V* miles. 

November 14, 1985 — Northwest 751 was cleared for takeoff on 
runway 4L. United 926 was touching down on runway 14L. Separa- 
tion was not maintained at the runway intersection. 

November 19, 1985— City 14, a vehicle was cleared onto the 
runway for a runway check. Delta 1162 was cleared for takeoff 3 
minutes later. The vehicle reported clear of the runway lVfe min- 
utes after Delta was issued takoff clearance. 

November 24, 1985— American 439 departed ORD heading 220 
degrees climbing to 5,000 feet. Midway 177 departed Midway climb- 
ing to 6,000 feet. The aircraft passed within 500 feet vertical and 1 
mile horizontally of each other. 



APPENDIX 2.— SYNOPSIS OF ORD ERRORS 1986 

January 11, 1986 — Britt Air 711 departed runway 22L, heading 
270 degrees climbing to 5,000 feet. American 287 departed runway 
27L heading 250 degrees climbing to 5,000 feet. Separation de- 
creased to 200 feet and 2 miles. 

January 16, 1986 — Air Wisconsin 923 departed ORD climbing to 
14,000 feet. N8BX departed Palwaukee, without being coordinated 
and the two aircraft passed within V% mile horizontally and 500 
feet vertically. 

January 20, 1986 — American 169 departed ORD climbing and 
was level 5,000 feet. Midway 157 departed Midway, northwest 
bound. The departure controller stopped Midway 157 at 5,000 feet 
to avoid a departure from ORD. The two aircraft passed 1.76 miles 
from each other. 

February 24, 1986 — The departure controller failed to ensure sep- 
aration between Air Wisconsin 939 and Midstates 281 both depar- 
tures from ORD. The aircraft passed within 700 feet vertical and 
1.43 miles horizontally. 

February 25, 1986 — United 127 was at the intersection of taxiway 
"Tl" and runway 32L for departure. Air Wisconsin 842 was on 
final for runway 9L. The controller cleared United 127 for takeoff, 
anticipating the aircraft would pass behind the arrival. This did 
not occur and United 127 had to delay rotation to avoid the arrival. 

February 14, 1986 — United 306 was overtaking the preceeding 
aircraft on approach. The tower controller issued United 306 in- 
structions to go around, and turned the flight back into th airport. 
United 306 passed within .9 miles of Britt Air 250 on final ap- 
proach. 

February 7, 1986— American 508 over took N6670C on climb out, 
passing within 800 feet vertically and 1.20 miles horizontally of the 
other aircraft. 

April 10, 1986 — The tower controller failed to provide separation 
between TWA 811 and United 472 on departure. 

May 17, 1986 — The tower controller failed to provide separation 
between American 695 and US Air 573 on crossing runways, both 
aircraft were departing. 

May 23, 1986— The controller forgot N16522 at 4,000 feet, and 
climbed United 222 within 1 mile of the aircraft. 

June 16, 1986 — The controller descended Japan Airlines flight 10 
to 10,000 feet. The pilot read back and descended to 3,000 feet. The 
flight conflicted with N270HC, passing within 200 feet vertically 
and 1.25 miles horizontally. 

June 26, 1986— The controller issued N30LM 7,000 by mistake. 
The aircraft conflicted with Air Wisconsin 761, passing within 400 
feet of the aircraft. 

(19) 



20 

June 30, 1986 — The tower controller issued both departures a 
healing of 070 degrees off of intersecting runways. Separation de- 
creased to 200 feet vertical and 1 mile horizontal. 

July 2, 1986 — Separation was lost between two departures when 
one controller adheared to noise abatement procedures and the 
other one did not. 

July 15, 1986 — The controller stopped an arrival at 6,000 feet to 
allow a departure from Palwaukee to pass below it. The controller 
forgot to reclear the arrival for the approach. American 181 was at 
6,000 feet and conflicted with N371MC at the same altitude. Sepa- 
ration was 100 feet vertical and 1.02 horizontal. 

August 11, 1986 — The city vehicle was cleared onto the runway 
for a runway check. The controller forgot the vehicle and cleared 
an aircraft for takeoff. 

September 17, 1986 — American 231 conflicted with American 
293, when the departure controller prematurely lifted a speed re- 
striction. Separation was 200 feet vertical and 4.03 miles horizontal 
in Center airspace. 

October 1, 1986 — Wild Onion 1512 was issued a clearance to 8,000 
feet. The aircraft was handed off to Rockford approach with no 
data strip being transmitted. Rockford based control on the aircraft 
read out of 6,000 feet in the climb. Wild Onion 1512 conflicted with 
N45114 at 6,000 feet. The ORD controller did not abide by the 
Letter of Agreement with Rockford. 

October 22, 1986— The local controller cleared United 141 for 
takeoff on runway 9R with United 725 in position on runway 22L. 
United 141 passed 500 feet above United 725. 

October 25, 1986 — American 955 was allowed to land while 
American 321 was still on the runway. 

October 31, 1986 — The controller failed to ensure separation be- 
tween two entrail aircraft. 

November 20, 1986 — The controller vectored a departure in close 
proximity to another aircraft, separation was .7 miles. 

December 9, 1986 — The controller failed to ensure separation be- 
tween crossing courses. . . . Separation deteriorated to 200 feet 
vertical and 1.86 miles horizontal. 



ADDITIONAL VIEWS OF HON. J. DENNIS HASTERT 

This report's findings and recommendations are appropriate and 
timely. Clearly, there are a number of problems with the air traffic 
control system at O'Hare International Airport that, taken togeth- 
er, have resulted in an overall decrease in efficiency and safety at 
the facility. 

A number of other important issues were raised at the Govern- 
ment Activities and Transportation Subcommittee hearing, but are 
not discussed in the report. I feel it is essential that these issues 
also be brought to the attention of the Committee, in order for us 
to gain a full understanding of all the factors that impact air traf- 
fic safety in the Chicago area. 

One of the key issues raised at the hearing concerned the 1984 
implementation of a high-low sectorization traffic control system at 
the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, Illinois 
(Chicago Center). As a consequence of this action, all air traffic con- 
trollers (ATC) at the Chicago Center, regardless of their experience 
or skill level, were redesignated as trainees and were required to 
recertify on both high altitude and low altitude traffic sectors. 
Prior to this, ATC's were certified — and specialized — on either one 
sector or the other. 

Ostensibly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandat- 
ed this change to produce more-versatile controllers and to increase 
flexibility in air traffic management. It has become apparent that 
what it got was quite another thing all together. Since the Subcom- 
mittee hearing in February, I have further discussed this issue 
with ATC's at the Chicago Center. They are convinced that, due to 
the complexity and volume of traffic handled by the Center, the 
high-low policy has contributed to an increase in operational errors 
at the facility. 

Part of the problem was brought on by the fact that the imple- 
mentation of the high-low system was accompanied by a reduction 
in the overall effectiveness and quality of developmental controller 
training. Prior to 1984, Chicago Center ATC's were trained in 
groups of two sectors at a time (usually the less active "wing sec- 
tors"). Thereafter, training for each new sector required less time, 
because the type of traffic and the conditions were the same as 
those on which the controllers received their initial instructions. 

Under high-low, more training time and therefore more trainers 
are needed to prepare controllers to deal with the added variables 
involved in dual-altitude traffic management. However, due to in- 
adequate staffing levels and congressional pressure to increase the 
number of fully certified controllers on the job, trainees are being 
"rushed" through the three-step training process, and often are 
being forced to work sectors of traffic they may not be adequately 
prepared to handle. In addition, some of these inexperienced ATC's 
are then expected to provide on-the-job training for other develop- 

(21) 



22 

mental controllers. This short-cut approach to training has already 
produced operational errors and near collisions that were blamed 
on inadequate controller training or inexperience. 

Another potential safety hazard of the high-low system is created 
by the requirement that contollers switch from one altitude to the 
other (often more than once) during a shift. There are certain criti- 
cal differences between high and low altitude traffic management 
that must be taken into account to efficiently and safely direct 
traffic through each sector. If a controller fails to adjust effectively 
when moving from one altitude sector to the other, what may 
appear to be nothing more than a minor miscalculation or misread- 
ing could result in a violation of air separation requirements, a 
near collision, or worse. Even experienced ATC's have had prob- 
lems in this area. 

I have been informed that the Chicago Center is scheduled to 
convert solely to a low altitude facility in 1992 or thereabout. In 
light of this fact, the FAA should reconsider its high-low policy at 
the Chicago Center, or at least seriously consider some of the con- 
cerns and suggested improvements that have been made by control- 
lers since the new policy was put into effect. At a minimum, the 
agency should open up new channels of communication between 
controllers and area managers and the FAA in Washington. Other- 
wise, a repeat of the 1981 job action will all but be inevitable. 

Another primary issue was the inadequacy of staffing levels at 
both O'Hare and the Center. Although the FAA has on numerous 
occasions expressed the intention of increasing the number of con- 
trollers — and particularly, full performance level controllers — at 
both facilities, there are still a number of obstacles that, if not alle- 
viated, will continue to deter qualified controllers from transfer- 
ring to the Chicago area. 

During the hearing, then FAA Great Lakes Regional Director 
Paul Bohr assured the Subcommittee that he was taking positive, 
creative steps to recruit qualified, experienced ATC's to relocate in 
the Chicago area. He, along with other witnesses, discussed some of 
the reasons why it is difficult to bring controllers into the region, 
including the local climate, cost of living, and challenging work en- 
vironment (i.e. the quantity and complexity of traffic). In subse- 
quent discussions, I have learned of another obstacle that has not 
received much attention. 

The 1981 strike and subsequent firing of 11,400 ATC's left most 
air traffic facilities with substantially less than the number of con- 
trollers necessary to effectively manage the work load. As a result, 
facility managers who are struggling to rebuild their work force are 
extremely reluctant to let go of experienced ATC's. This creates 
problems for controllers who seek promotions or transfers to other 
FAA facilities. Recently, a Chicago Center controller related the 
difficulty he encountered attempting to do just that. 

Rather than being discouraged, this individual cited the challeng- 
ing aspect of the Chicago area as a positive factor that motivated 
him to seek a transfer. Unfortunately, he encountered a major 
roadblock that almost frustrated his efforts to relocate. When he 
originally submitted a request to transfer from the Houston Center 
to Chicago, Houston management informed him that he could not 
get a release date until the Chicago Center made him an offer of 



23 

employment. Accordingly, he visited Chicago to inquire about such 
an offer, but was informed that no such offer could be extended 
until the Houston Center provided him with a release date. This 
stalemate continued for nine months, with neither region willing to 
yield, until this individual was finally able to find a controller at 
Chicago willing to make a mutual trade in duty stations. This one- 
for-one trade was eventually approved by both Centers, as long as 
the controllers were willing to pay their own moving expenses. We 
can only wonder how many other qualified controllers have tried 
but failed to get released from some other facility so that they 
could transfer to Chicago. 

The FAA should consider modifying its personnel transfer policy, 
to allow controllers more flexibility in bidding on vacant positions 
at other air traffic control facilities and to receive deserved promo- 
tions. One way to accomplish this would be to centralize final au- 
thority on proposed relocations. If a facility or regional manager 
denies a transfer request, the controller should have the opportuni- 
ty to appeal to the FAA Administrator or a designated authority. 
Otherwise, ATC's will continue to encounter obstacles that limit 
their ability to grow professionally, discouraging them and others 
from remaining air traffic controllers. 

J. Dennis Hastert. 

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