Air controllers rebuked

September 21, 2000

BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Fifteen air traffic controllers accused of slowing down air traffic in the Chicago area last July to protest work conditions face punishments ranging from 30-day suspensions to letters of reprimand, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.

The agency also announced it will reassign Kip Johns and Gordon Woodahl, the top administrators at the Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Elgin, who reportedly have been at odds with some controllers working there.

A few facts

  • Air traffic controllers can make $70,000 to more than $100,000 a year in the Chicago area
  • There are three main control centers in the region, one in Aurora that staffs about 400 controllers, one in Elgin that employs about 100, and one at O'Hare Airport, where there are around 50 air traffic controllers.
  • Controllers are assigned eight-hour shifts, but overtime is common.
  • Source: Federal Aviation Administration

    "On July 17, passengers were severely inconvenienced because of actions of a small number of controllers," an FAA statement reads. "Accordingly, the FAA today proposed penalties ranging from letters of reprimand to [unpaid] 30-calendar-day suspensions for 15 air traffic controllers in that facility, following an investigation that indicated there was an intentional slowing of traffic in the Chicago area.

    "In order to foster a new workplace environment, the FAA announced it would also change the management team at the facility," the statement said.

    An "investigation, conducted by the FAA, with the assistance of the [U.S. Department of Transportation's] inspector general, revealed no safety-related incidents during the period when traffic was slowed."

    Charles Bunting, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association group at TRACON, declined to comment on whether the union or individual controllers will appeal. He would not say whether any union leaders were among those disciplined.

    Union officials initially blamed unusual winds for the slowdown.

    A statement from the controllers association's national president, John Carr, said the union will take a "wait and see" attitude to the findings.

    The suspensions would be staggered so staffing levels aren't diminished at TRACON, said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

    The disciplinary action is believed to be the largest of its kind in recent years.

    About 100 controllers work at the Elgin facility, which handles planes within a 40-mile radius of O'Hare and Midway airports.

    It is among the busiest in the country.