Air traffic controller suspended, incident probed

An air traffic controller has been suspended and the FAA is investigating a March 27 incident in which the controller in the Central Florida Terminal Radar Approach Control “requested assistance from a passenger aircraft in checking on (an) aircraft that had been out of radio contact for over one hour.” the FAA said in a statement.

A Cirrus SR22 was headed for Kissimmee, Fla., and maintaining altitude at 11,000 feet. Air traffic controllers at Jacksonville Center repeatedly tried to reach the aircraft without success, according to the FAA.

Southwest 821, a Boeing 737, was ten miles in trail of the Cirrus at 12,000 feet and heading for Orlando International Airport. “The controller asked the Southwest crew if they could check the cockpit of the Cirrus,” the FAA said. “The Southwest crew agreed, was directed towards the Cirrus and reported the aircraft in sight.”

The Southwest pilots reported seeing two people in the cockpit. The Southwest flight turned away and the air traffic controller then vectored the aircraft for its arrival at Orlando International Airport. Approximately thirty seconds later the Cirrus contacted Jacksonville Center who gave them the current frequency.

Both aircraft landed safely at their destinations, and preliminary information indicates that there was a loss of required separation between the two aircraft, according to the FAA. The FAA has suspended the air traffic controller, who is a supervisor.

“By placing this passenger aircraft in close proximity to another plane, the air traffic controller compromised the safety of everyone involved. This incident was totally inappropriate,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement. “We are reviewing the air traffic procedures used here and making sure everyone understands the protocols for contacting unresponsive aircraft.”

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