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Union Problems: Air Traffic Controller Suspended After Setting Planes on Collision Course...Twice


"It is damn difficult to get rid of an employee for cause."

Houston, you have a problem.

Anyone can have a bad day at work, but when that bad day at work involves potentially setting two planes on collision courses, matters have been carried too far, especially when the problem repeats itself. In the case of air traffic controller Robert Beck, that's exactly what happened, and he won't be setting any more courses any time soon. The public sector union member was suspended at Gulfbort-Biloxi International Airport after another controller spotted his mistake in telling two planes to fly on the same vector right towards each other.

Ralph Humphrey, Beck's former supervisor, told Fox News that the only reason Beck hasn't been fired yet is because the unions typically won't allow it. Here's what Humphrey told Fox, as well as some details on Beck himself:

"It's typical of trying to get rid of problem employees" at FAA, said Humphrey, who was the air traffic manager in Gulfport until he retired in January. "It is damn difficult to get rid of an employee for cause."[...]

A mistake by Beck last June caused a regional airliner and a small plane to come within 300 feet of colliding with each other, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released in January. Investigators were told Beck had "a history of professional deficiencies that included taking shortcuts with phraseology and not complying with standard checklist procedures." He has been suspended several times within the last five years for tardiness, absenteeism and failure to report an arrest for driving under the influence, the report said.

Beck, a 23-year veteran, was ultimately disciplined by the FAA and required to receive professional re-training but only because he didn't disclose the June incident at the time it occurred, Humphrey said. It was only recently that Beck had been allowed to direct air traffic again without another controller sitting beside him to catch any errors, the former manager said.

The Air Traffic Controllers' union has refused to comment to anyone regarding the situation. Hopefully the repeated nature of this problem will persuade them that this is one bad apple who could spoil the whole barrel.

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