Cover-Up Charged at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport For the second time in two years, whistleblowers are accusing their air-traffic control colleagues of a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up errors at one of the nation's busiest airports. The latest accusations charge that Dallas-Fort Worth controllers blame near collisions on pilot error.
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Cover-Up Charged at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport

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Cover-Up Charged at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

There are accusations that air traffic controllers in Dallas are blaming pilots for near misses that are actually the fault of the controllers. The allegations come from a whistleblower at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. It is the second claim of wrongdoing and cover-up at the airport in the last two years.

From Dallas, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: Two years ago, Ann Whiteman blew the whistle on seven years of conspiracy between air traffic controllers and their supervisors to cover-up controller errors at DFW. A subsequent investigation by the inspector general of the Office of the Transportation substantiated Whiteman's allegations. Whiteman is now a supervisor. And now she and another FAA employee are saying that the FAA has switched strategies. Instead of covering up mistakes made by their controls, they're blaming them on the pilots instead.

Ms. ANN WHITEMAN (Air Traffic Controller, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport): If an air traffic controller believes she can misbehave, if they can have an indifferent attitude about keeping those aircrafts safely separated, somebody is going to die.

GOODWYN: Whiteman says when two planes get too close to each other while approaching Dallas and it's an air traffic controller's error, sometimes supervisors will arbitrarily classify those mistakes as pilot error. She says that, traditionally, there are about ten incidents a year of what are called pilot deviation at DFW. But this year, there're already up to 100. Whiteman says the problem is that the FAA didn't remove the bad actors in air traffic control management at DFW when they should have two years ago.

Ms. WHITEMAN: They should have been held accountable. The manager of the facility should have been held accountable. The people involved in covering up these near misses should have been held accountable. Instead, they were left in place by the FAA. And so what did they do, they found a way to blame it on someone other than themselves. They blame it on the pilots.

Mr. SCOTT BLOCH (Special Counsel, U.S. Office of Special Counsel): We do believe it's happening at DFW, but we also have reason to believe that this comes from higher up. And there's enough there that the DOT secretary needs to order a full investigation.

GOODWYN: Scott Bloch is the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal whistleblower complaints and then reports to the president and Congress. Bloch says they have detailed information that the idea to shift blame from the controllers to the pilots is actually an unofficial FAA policy coming from Washington, D.C.

Mr. BLOCH: In the summer of 2006, there was a meeting in Washington of the heads of facilities throughout the nation. And as a result of that meeting, a more extensive, and potentially national in scope, cover-up has taken place in which not only are operation errors not reported, but they're now assigning blame to the pilots. So it's a complete whitewash.

Ms. LAURA BROWN (Spokesperson, Federal Aviation Administration): Well, I can tell you, there is no FAA policy to shift blame to pilots.

GOODWYN: Laura Brown is the spokesperson for the FAA.

Ms. BROWN: We don't believe there's a danger to passenger safety at DFW or anywhere else. The first time we saw this specific allegations was yesterday. But we do have processes in place at DFW and around the rest of the country to take a look at incidents after the fact to make sure that there aren't any important events that were missed, and that they are properly categorized.

GOODWYN: The FAA says they will investigate the allegations about DFW. But the next question is what about the allegations regarding the FAA's unofficial policy. The Office of Special Counsel is calling on transportation secretary Mary Peters to conduct a full investigation.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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