Staffing issues cause RDU delays

June 22, 2009 9:19:35 PM PDT
A move being described as "desperate" forced the cancellation of dozens of flights in and out of RDU Friday night.The Air Traffic Controllers' Union said it was all an attempt to avoid a serious safety risk not only at RDU, but in much of the air space over eastern North Carolina.

The issue centers around a shortage of air traffic controllers that some have said leaves very little margin for error. And Friday night, it led to a situation one controller called outrageous and dangerous.

"Just totally unacceptable, I believe," said air traffic controller John Brow, who works at the RDU watch tower.

It all started from an issue hundreds of miles away in Washington D.C. The FAA said there were four air traffic controllers scheduled to work and to cover two areas of airspace -including the skies above the Triangle. But three people called in sick, leaving one man to do the work of four.

"He was sitting in front of a radar scope with a huge piece of air space over Eastern and Central North Carolina and was responsible for separating safely aircraft, numerous aircraft I'm sure," Brown said.

Brown was working Friday at RDU and said he couldn't believe so much was piled on one worker in Washington.

"The safety implications are just far and wide," Brown said.

And he said in order to give that worker a break, the airspace at RDU had to be closed for about a half hour.

"The fact they had to shutdown that airspace so the guy could have a break and eat his meal and go to the bathroom is just outrageous," Brown said."Quite a few flights were delayed, we had to reroute a lot of flights around that airspace."

But the FAA told Eyewitness News a different story.

"It didn't really impact Raleigh," FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said."We didn't have any delays because of it."

The FAA called it an anomaly.

"That doesn't surprise me and their response is always going to be there's no problem until there's an accident or an incident," Salac said.

Brown said it showed a shortage of staffing and adequate back-up.

But the FAA said it wasn't an issue of short staffing, just too many people called out sick and not being able to replace them quickly.

They also said the job of combining two different areas of airspace for one controller to monitor was not an unusual occurrence.


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