The FAA and the NTSB are both investigating a March 27 incident over Florida, when an air traffic controller asked a passenger aircraft to veer off course and look in the cockpit of another plane – one that had been out of contact.
The controller in the Central Florida Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) made that request of Southwest Boeing 737 after repeated attempts to contact a Cirrus SR22 aircraft had failed to raise a response. The Cirrus was on course for Kissimmee, FL and maintaining altitude at 11,000 feet.
The Southwest plane, about ten miles behind and a thousand feet higher in altitude than the Cirrus – and heded for Orlando International Airport – agreed to take a look, and was directed towards the Cirrus.
The Southwest plane got close enough for its pilot to report seeing two people in the cockpit before turning away. According to the FAA, the Cirrus contacted the Jacksonville Center approximately thirty seconds later. Both aircraft landed safely at their destinations.
Preliminary information indicates that there was” a loss of required separation between the two aircraft.” The FAA has suspended the air traffic controller, who is a supervisor.
“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,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We are reviewing the air traffic procedures used here and making sure everyone understands the protocols for contacting unresponsive aircraft.”