Reduction of flight controllers a concern

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In light of recent events, I am greatly concerned about air travel here in Juneau. No, I am not concerned about a terrorist attack, but I am concerned about flying in Juneau.

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Unfortunately, in times of crisis, eyes are opened. That is exactly what happened during the fatal flight of Comair in Lexington, Ky. The FAA has acknowledged that two controllers, rather than one, should have been working at the time of the crash. The fact of the matter is that the staffing problem is at crisis stage. The FAA cannot ignore the problem anymore. And this problem is hitting closer to home at Juneau's air traffic control tower.

You may be wondering how this effects us here in Alaska - here in Juneau. Well, Juneau just lost two air traffic controllers who transferred to other facilities. Juneau tower is below, not at, minimum staffing. And because of new work rules initiated by the FAA, most would say critical, if not dangerous, staffing levels. There will be five controllers on duty each day. Five controllers working varying shifts monitoring not only the ground traffic but the air as well. If one of the controllers is sick there will be four. If two of the controllers are sick there will be three on all day. The real big kicker is that the tower's assistant manager who used to be included in the staffing count in case such conditions occur will no longer be included as staff. He will not help if the need arises. If that is not concerning to you, both the manager and assistant manager of the tower do not work weekends leaving the tower unsupervised - scary.

I don't know about you, but I certainly am scared. Juneau is dangerously short staffed. Just looking outside, you can see the many airplanes and helicopters landing. It is not a matter of if a mistake is going to happen, but when. If an air traffic controller makes a mistake, very probably it won't be a "don't do that again." When an air traffic controller makes a mistake someone could die.

Years ago there was a near crash involving a plane and a snowplow at the airport. Steve Turner, the tower manager, lengthened the hours. Now he has reduced the hours the airport is open. After 8 p.m., Juneau Flight Service will "run" the airport. But the flight service station does not have a view of the airport.

Steve Turner, in an address on KINY radio, said that Ketchikan doesn't have a tower. Right, Ketchikan doesn't. But in all honesty, Mr. Turner, traffic counts at the Ketchikan airport and here in Juneau can't even be compared. Furthermore, last time I checked, Ketchikan wasn't the capital of Alaska.

Linda Stanley


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