That cannon I like to fire reporters out of works for bureaucrats too.

FAA bans weather radios from towers

Controllers unaware of Christmas Day tornado
Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- The Federal Aviation Administration has forbidden air-traffic controllers at the Daytona Beach International Airport from listening to emergency weather band radios, which the controllers say would have alerted them to a tornado touching down nearby on Christmas Day.

Controllers brought a 50-passenger commercial jet in for landing Christmas Day, oblivious to a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service. Controllers blamed their lack of notice on the FAA, which had banned radios from control towers in September. Two days after the tornado, the local FAA administrator put weather radios in the Daytona Beach tower.

But the FAA's national headquarters ordered the radios removed Friday, said Kelly Raulerson, Daytona controller and representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"We now have no way of knowing if there is any tornadic activity in the area," she said.

Raulerson said the radio ban compromises passengers' safety.

Tammy Jones, an FAA spokeswoman in Washington, disagreed. "As a matter of fact, the decision to ban those electronics is so that controllers can focus on the safe operation of airspace," she said.

Jones said the agency simply was enforcing in Daytona Beach the ban on radios enacted in September.

After the tornado, Kathleen Bergen, another FAA spokeswoman, said the agency never banned weather radios in control towers.

"The weather radios were not banned at Daytona or any other tower," she said Dec. 28. "Daytona simply didn't have weather radios prior to the Christmas Day event."

Bergen was not available for comment Friday. Jones said she did not know why Bergen said the weather radios were allowed.

"It is another case of FAA doublespeak," said Doug Church, spokesman for the controllers association in Washington, D.C. "It is insane the Daytona controllers didn't know there was a tornado outside of their window."

Controllers are able to pick up precipitation on radar, but not tornadoes in the storms.

The tornadoes touched down in four spots in Volusia County, injuring at least 16 people and causing millions in damage. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University next to the airport took a direct hit.

Raulerson, an air-traffic controller for 16 years, said it makes no sense to cut controllers off from the outside world.

On Christmas Day, Comair flight 5580 from New York's LaGuardia Airport was scheduled to land in Daytona Beach at 1:39 p.m., about 10 minutes after a tornado warning had been issued. The tornado hit at 1:45 p.m. and the plane landed safely at 2:06 p.m.

Jones said controllers have access to radios and televisions in their break room. "So they are not completely shut off from the outside world," she said.

Raulerson said controllers in the tower are not near the break room, which is down the hall from the tracon, the radar room at the base of the tower, in a different building.

The FAA and its controllers have been in bitter disputes for years. In September, the federal agency imposed work rules and conditions on the controllers after declaring an impasse in contract talks.

Jones said she has not heard of any other airports where the controllers have weather radios.

Church said controllers at other airports tried to put in weather radios after the incident in Daytona Beach, but didn't think any were successful.

"Is the FAA banking on the fact lightning won't strike twice and this won't happen in Daytona again?"