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FAA missteps at D/FW disclosed

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration, under fire in Congress for its handling of airline safety, faced more controversy Thursday following disclosures that FAA officials in North Texas were involved in the intentional misclassification of errors by flight controllers at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

"We're not going to stand for this," declared acting FAA Administrator Robert A. Sturgell as the agency responded to the findings of a critical report by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General.

The investigation stems from allegations which first surfaced more than four years ago when Anne Whiteman, an air traffic control operator for the FAA, became a government whistle-blower and reported that air traffic control mistakes at D/FW were being covered up.

An inspector general investigation validated her claims, but the new IG report said that promised corrections were not fully implemented. In response to the findings, FAA officials suspended the manager and assistant manager of flight control at D/FW and took steps to toughen the reporting of airspace errors.

The inspector general found that the Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Approach Control (TRACON) investigated operational errors and "deviations,"’ but routinely and intentionally misclassified them as pilot-errors or "non-events."

Between November 2005 and July 2007, the report concluded, TRACON managers misclassified 62 air traffic events as pilot deviation or non-events when in fact there were 52 operational errors and 10 operational deviations.

FAA officials summarized the findings in advance of the report's official release. The disclosures are likely to escalate congressional criticism of the agency after inspection lapses involving Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and the mass grounding of American Airlines flights in response to the FAA’s stepped-up enforcement of airlines regulations.