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Southwest Pilots and Controllers suspended

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Staff member
Jan 4, 2011
Reaction score
This is nuts. I can understand the Controllers getting in trouble for not following standard procedure but the Pilots? The were asked to it and no time were they endanger their passengers lifes. I know I would have done it if ATC asked me.

FAA controller, Southwest Airlines pilots suspended after flying too close to another airplane
Staff Writer
[email protected]
Published 30 March 2011 09:33 AM
Related items An air traffic controller on Sunday asked a Southwest Airlines plane over Florida to check on a small airplane nearby that wasn't responding to radio calls.

But, the Federal Aviation Administration said, it appears the controller, a supervisor, let the Southwest jet fly too close to the Cirrus SR22 airplane.

As a result, the FAA has suspended the controller, and Southwest has suspended the two pilots who maneuvered their aircraft for a closer look. The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating.

“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,” Babbitt added.

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King late Tuesday said the airline has also put the pilots “on paid leave pending the conclusion of the investigation.”

According to the FAA statement, the smaller airplane was headed toward Kissimmee, just south of Orlando. Air traffic controllers at the Jacksonville center had been unable to get a response from the airplane for an hour.

The controller at the central Florida center asked pilots on Southwest Flight 821, approaching Orlando from Phoenix, to check on the other airplane. The Southwest flight was 10 miles behind the Cirrus and flying at 12,000 feet; the Cirrus was maintaining an altitude of 11,000 feet.

“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.”

However, the airplanes apparently got too close to each other in violation of FAA minimums for separation of aircraft.

The FAA did not disclose how close the airplanes were, but the Aviation Herald said FAA radar data indicated that the Southwest airplane “descended down to 10,800 feet and back up to 11,000 feet while checking the Cirrus, that maintained 11,000 feet all time.

“The radar tracks suggest the minimum separation between the aircraft was less than 1.2nm [nautical miles, or about 1.4 statute miles] lateral with 0 feet vertical,” the Aviation Herald said.

The Southwest flight then turned away from the Cirrus, and was sent on to Orlando. “Approximately thirty seconds later the Cirrus contacted Jacksonville Center who gave them the current frequency. Both aircraft landed safely at their destinations,” the FAA said.

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