According to a CNN story out just now, the Federal Aviation Administration violated its own rules in having only one air traffic controller on duty in Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday when 49 people died in the crash of Comair flight 5191. That one controller cleared the flight to take off on a runway that was too short.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday acknowledged that only one controller was in the tower, in violation of FAA policy, when a Comair jet crashed Sunday while trying to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Kentucky.
Forty-nine of 50 people aboard were killed.
The acknowledgment came after CNN obtained a November 2005 FAA memorandum spelling out staffing levels at the airport. The memo says two controllers are needed to perform two jobs -- monitoring air traffic on radar and performing other tower functions, such as communicating with taxiing aircraft.
In instances when two controllers are not available, the memo says, the radar monitoring function should be handed off to the FAA's Indianapolis Center.
The FAA confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that the lone controller was performing both functions Sunday at Blue Grass Airport in violation of the FAA policy.
The FAA should have scheduled a second controller for the overnight shift or should have shifted radar responsibilities to Indianapolis Center, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.
There is a big question which now has to be answered. Why was the air traffic control tower understaffed? Did it have to do with someone trying to save a few bucks to fit a tight budget that had been cut?
Maybe, maybe not. But this question needs to be asked.