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Air Traffic Controller Blamed for Near Mid-Air Collision Back at Work in Gulfport

By Rhonda Miller | Published 19 Jan 2012 11:40pm | comments

An air traffic controller with the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport has been retrained and is back on the job after nearly causing a mid-air collision.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller has more.

The near-collision at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport happened when the air traffic controller cleared two planes for take-off within 16 sixteen seconds of each other.  One was a four-seater Cessna on a training flight, the other a Continental Airlines flight with 50 passengers bound for Houston.  National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said the air traffic controller was found to be at fault in the incident on June 19, 2011.

"They were both airborne at approximately the same altitude, about 300 feet above the surface of the airport, when they came within about 300 lateral," Knudson said.

That means the two planes came within 300 feet of each other.

According to NTSB investigation material, the air traffic controller, Robert Beck, has a history of tardiness and absenteeism, and has been cited for a poor work ethic. The report says Beck has been suspended two or three times for conduct issues. One of Beck’s co-workers rated his professional performance a D-minus and considered him unsafe.

Air traffic controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration, not the airport.  An FAA spokesperson said Beck was decertified as an air traffic controller after the incident, then retrained and recertified, and is back at Gulfport-Biloxi Airport as an air traffic controller.

The report on the near-collision can make the flying public nervous, but Airport Director Bruce Frallic says Gulfport has an outstanding safety history.

"These kinds of events don’t occur very often. In fact, I’ve been here since 1986 and  I can’t ever remember another incident that was a near-miss," Frallic said.

Former Boeing engineer Todd Curtis is a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators. Reached by phone in Boston, Curtis said human error is rare, but when it happens, improvements can be made.

"I have to trust the FAA to have the wherewithal to make sure this person is a safe controller," Curtis said.

In the NTSB materials, the manager for air traffic controller Robert Beck said, “It was a miracle that no one died.”

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