Last updated: 03:14 PM ET, Tue September 15 2015

Air Traffic Controllers Blow The Whistle On Huge Collision Risk

Impacting Travel | Patrick Clarke | September 15, 2015

Air Traffic Controllers Blow The Whistle On Huge Collision Risk

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A federal whistleblower protection officer revealed Tuesday that five air traffic controllers have uncovered an existing problem that is putting planes at risk of collision and wake turbulence-related accidents, the Associated Press reported.

Citing letters sent to both the White House and Congress by an independent agency known as the Office of Special Counsel, the AP reported the issue occurs when pilots, air traffic control centers or airline dispatchers attempt to alter a flight plan by creating a second plan for the same flight.

Since the computers that controllers use don't automatically update and notify controllers, the potential exists for a controller to clear a flight with an outdated plan for departure.

The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged the problem late last year. But despite assigning a working group to address the concerns, a recent audit has confirmed little to no progress on a solution.

The controllers credited for recently exposing the problem work at Michigan's Detroit Metropolitan Airport. 

"The whistleblowers in Detroit deserve our deep gratitude," Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner told the AP. "While more work needs to be done, their actions reignited efforts to address the problems."

The problem impacts flights nationwide and has been something controllers have complained about to the FAA for nearly a decade, whistle blower Vincent Sugent told the AP. "They (FAA officials) admitted the problem multiple times," Sugent said in an interview. "But they were just really slow. They weren't acting quickly enough."

Sugent told the AP that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has revealed its concerns to the FAA in the past as well. 

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