Louisville Courier-Journal
January 25, 2007
By Alex Davis

The Federal Aviation Administration's top official said Thursday a second air traffic controller in Lexington would have been focused on radar-related duties when Comair Flight 5191 crash, not making sure it was on the correct runway.

Only one controller was on duty Sunday when the plane took off on a runway that was too short for the jet's size and weight. As it tried to take off, it left the runway and crashed in a nearby field, killing 49 of 50 people aboard.

The FAA has said the agency violated its own policy by having one controller in the Lexington tower, rather than two. Officials said the sole controller was doing two jobs at the time of the crash.

Federal investigators said the controller, who has not been identified, had cleared Flight 5191 for takeoff and then turned away to perform administrative duties.

On Thursday, Marion Blakey, the federal agency's administrator, said a second controller would have been focusing on radar-related duties, typically involving airborne planes, such as those arriving for a landing.

Blakey did not comment directly on whether a second controller would have prevented the crash, saying she was "not here to talk about the circumstances" in Lexington.

She also said there is no national or local shortage of air traffic controllers, and she said the federal agency has strict controls to ensure controllers are not fatigued when they show up for work.

She did not elaborate on the agency's safety guidelines.

The controller during the Lexington crash told investigators he had two hours of sleep prior to his Sunday shift and had been off nine hours before the overnight shift.

Blakey was in Louisville to discuss a new aviation technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, or ADS-B.

The software is designed to give pilots more information about their surroundings while in the cockpit, including their exact position on runways and the position of aircraft around them.