Controller Suspended for Letting Planes Fly Too Close

An air traffic control supervisor has been suspended for the second time in one week – this time for actions that caused a commercial jet and a private plane to get too close together in central Florida.

The Federal Aviation Administration is saying a Southwest Airlines jet carrying 142 people and a single-engine plane with two people came too close together on Sunday night at the request of the supervisor, putting both planes in danger.

In a statement, the FAA says the controller at the central Florida center asked pilots on Southwest Flight 821, a flight approaching Orlando from Phoenix, to check on an unresponsive plane that was 10 miles ahead. Air traffic controllers at the Jacksonville center had been trying to reach the small plane, a Cirrus SR22 heading toward Kissimmee, for over an hour.

The Cirrus was flying at 11,000 feet, while the Southwest jet was at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Southwest pilots reported getting so close they could see two people in the cockpit, the FAA says.

"By placing this passenger aircraft in close proximity to another plane, the air traffic controller compromised the safety of everyone involved. This incident was totally inappropriate," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement.

"We are reviewing the air traffic procedures used here and making sure everyone understands the protocols for contacting unresponsive aircraft," he added.

The FAA says the Cirrus contacted Jacksonville Center approximately thirty seconds after the Southwest jet checked on them. The Southwest jet was sent on to Orlando, and both aircraft landed safely at their destinations.

The incident happened just days after a lone air traffic controller at Washington's Reagan National Airport fell asleep in the control tower, forcing two commercial planes to land without assistance from the airport.

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