Sep 4, 2006
Responsibility for the recent crash of a commuter jet, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard, falls directly on the government. Comair Flight 5191 crashed about a half-mile from the end of a short runway in Lexington Kentucky. The crew apparently thought they were on another runway, twice as long.
The crash could have been avoided if ground control had warned the crew they were using the wrong runway. But at the time of the crash, in violation of FAA rules, there was only one air traffic controller on duty at the airport. He cleared Flight 5191 for takeoff from the longer runway and then quickly turned away to perform other duties.
Because of a shortage of controllers at the airport, this controller had been given an exhausting work schedule. He worked 6:30 am to 2:30 pm on Saturday, returned at 11:30 pm Saturday, and had been working another 6½ hours when the crash occurred at about 6:00 am Sunday.
The FAA is responsible for these deadly conditions. It has failed to hire enough controllers all over the country. There are 1,081 fewer controllers now than there were three years ago, even though the number of flights has increased significantly. This short-staffing will likely increase, since about 2,400 controllers are eligible to retire now. About 8,000 more become eligible to retire over the next 10 years, and the FAA is making few moves to replace them.
Instead of hiring and training more controllers to end the deadly consequences of short-staffing, on September 3 – just a week after the Kentucky crash – the FAA announced it would impose new work rules. Sick leave will no longer be granted if a controller simply needs more rest, so tired controllers will have to work no matter how fatigued. And during their shifts, controllers will no longer be entitled to a break every two hours, and more frequently when performing particularly stressful assignments.
All of this reflects budget decisions made by Congress and the president, taking money away from public services, giving it to the wealthy.
If we lived in a society where government officials took responsibility for their actions, they would be charged with murder, 49 counts of it. Instead, the FAA today is laying the ground work for more fatal crashes.