Questions still remain after an incident last November at Boise Airport in which the air traffic control tower failed to respond to incoming planes and airport officials for a period of at least twenty minutes. During that time, at least two aircraft took off or landed at the airport without controller assistance. There were no aviation accidents in part because the incident took place between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. when air traffic was light, but the lack of proper control has troubled many.
After repeated attempts by pilots and other workers at the airport to contact the tower early on the morning of November 19, Boise Police and paramedics arrived to make a welfare check on the tower staff. Despite flashing lights, sirens, and an air horn, no one in the tower responded. Police only gained entry when another tower employee arrived and opened the locked gate.
That employee, according to reports, was supposed to be in the tower. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules require a staff of two to be on site at all times. Why he was not in the tower has yet to be explained.
Police noticed the smell of marijuana on the first employee, but a cursory search of the tower did not locate any drugs. The second employee was described as “very groggy and sluggish . . . dazed and confused” in the police report, and he admitted to having fallen asleep. Drug tests of both tower employees were negative, but the testing has been criticized because it was done four days after the incident.
It’s been reported that Boise Police do not have jurisdiction over the tower because it is an FAA facility. But when contacted by a local newspaper, Boise PD declined to release reports because there was an investigation in progress.
The FAA has declined to comment because it is also still looking into the incident. It’s not clear what criminal charges, if any, might apply in this case. It also hasn’t been revealed whether either tower employee was disciplined in any way by the FAA.
No aircraft was diverted or damaged and no one was injured because of this lapse. But the incident raises greater concerns about the safety of the US air travel system. There are more than 70,000 flights in the United States on an average day, carrying more than 1.7 million passengers. America has one of the safest air transportation systems in the world, but that’s built on a foundation of zero tolerance for unsafe operation.
The reports of the incident in Boise suggest that the tower employees considered their negligent actions to be no big deal, and police noted that they seemed “unconcerned about the situation.” It’s also been reported that the tower was calling out incorrect runways and directions to pilots, which, if true, would be a sure recipe for disaster. The potential for a catastrophic accident under circumstances like these can’t be ignored.
This case could have ended a different way. The two flights affected by the tower staff’s dereliction of duty were both medical flights, bringing patients to and from hospitals. Not all air travel problems involve a crash: Even if no crash happened, delaying or diverting those flights could have had drastic consequences.
If you have been harmed by an incident involving an aircraft in the sky or on the ground or have been injured in the terminal, it’s within your best interest to discuss the circumstances with a qualified and experienced aviation accident attorney. Craig Swapp & Associates can handle this kind of case, and we offer all clients a free consultation to discuss the details of their situation.
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