Airport tower duties realigned despite objections - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Airport tower duties realigned despite objections

By Lori Brown - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Federal officials are changing the duties and the training for air-traffic controllers at the Memphis airport, despite objections from the controllers' union.

The Federal Aviation Administration initially planned to impose job realignments at the Memphis airport in January but held off amid complaints that the agency was moving too fast. The FAA said Tuesday that the job changes will take effect next month.

"This was about proficiency and improved safety," said Mike Baker, the acting manager of the FAA's Memphis Airport Traffic Control.

The FAA says they want controllers to be a master of either the tower or the radar room, rather than a jack of both trades.  Air-traffic controllers at Memphis are now trained to work in their airport tower as well as its companion radar center. But with the job realignment, they'll either work in one or the other.

"The review concluded the split will increase the margin of safety for flights at Memphis and surrounding airports," Baker said.

Veteran controller Mitch Herrick disagrees. 

"There are controllers working in the tower in Memphis right now who are certified in that tower who have never worked the most complex operation that this tower offers," said Herrick, of the Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The union says that means the amount of training a controller needs for full certification will decrease.

"I'd hate to see the miracle on the Mississippi take place without an experienced controller to talk to that pilot," Herrick said.

The only problem with that argument - New York was one of the first regions in the country to separate those who work in the tower from those who in the radar room.  The change happened in the 1960's.

The FAA says Memphis is one of the last five major airports in the nation to make the change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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