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Hudson River Midair Collision – Lessons for Air Traffic Controllers

The two controllers on watch at New Jersey Teterboro Airport at the time of the mid-air collision of the Piper PA-32 Saratoga and the Eurocopter were suspended . The controller in charge was reportedly involved in inappropriate conversations on the telephone at the time of the accident, while the supervisor was not in the building as was required. […]




The two controllers on watch at New Jersey Teterboro Airport at the time of the mid-air collision of the Piper PA-32 Saratoga and the Eurocopter were suspended . The controller in charge was reportedly involved in inappropriate conversations on the telephone at the time of the accident, while the supervisor was not in the building as was required.

While it is unlikely that their actions contributed to the accident, there are some important lessons to be learnt by air traffic controllers worldwide.

1. Non-essential conversations on the telephone or otherwise by operational personnel is undoubtedly a distraction that cannot be entertained. Human Factor Principles have taught us that our short-term memory quickly fails us if our attention is diverted to other extraneous actions. 

2. Situational awareness is seriously impinged during and immediately after a distracting telephone conversation.

3. Utilizing the ATC unit’s telephone for an extended period effectively reduces the means by which Air Traffic Controllers can be reached if a report is to made concerning an accident or incident.

4. Temporary departure from the ATC facility is inevitable, but adequate backup in accordance with local instructions must be adhered to if a controller is to be given support during contingencies.

My experience has taught me that  most accidents and incidents occur during periods of low traffic when Air Traffic Controllers tend to lower their guard and the seemingly insignificant deviations from being vigilant suddenly becomes a nightmare.

Only an investigation into the accident will inform us what role, if any, these two New Jersey controllers’ actions played.


2 Responses

08.14.09

Good points Wayne. It takes tremendous self discipline to stay focused when your workload seems slow. But, it must be done when you are responsible for safety. Thanks for taking the time to write this post!

08.14.09

Air traffic controllers world over need to practice the highest standards of professionalism as their acts concern not one not two but many lives on board aircraft they control.

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About Wayne Farley

Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, an aviation safety evangelist who once made my living working in the control tower. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from the aviation world. After writing "13 Characteristics of an air traffic controller" in 2010, it went viral and established me as an unofficial ambassador for ATC.

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