The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating an incident involving a Southwest Airlines airplane that was requested to veer off course by Air Traffic Control to view into the cockpit of a general aviation airplane that had been out of radio communication.
On Sunday, March 27, 2011, Southwest Airlines flight 821 – a Boeing 737 – was requested by Central Florida Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) to check on a Cirrus SR22 that had been out of radio contact for an hour. The TRACON vectored the Southwest Airlines commercial flight until visual contact was obtained with the Cirrus. The Southwest pilots reported seeing two people in the cockpit. The Southwest flight turned away and the air traffic controller then vectored the aircraft for its arrival at Orlando International Airport. Approximately thirty seconds later the Cirrus contacted Jacksonville Center who gave them the current frequency. Both aircraft landed safely at their destinations.
In a statement, the FAA reported that preliminary information indicated 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.”