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The NTSB, which operates independently of other government agencies, is primarily responsible for investigating aviation accidents and issuing safety recommendations based on its findings. While the NTSB has no direct regulatory or enforcement power with regard to aviation law, it does have significant power of influence on those who can effect change. In fact, approximately 80 percent of all NTSB safety recommendations are adopted by the FAA or other regulatory agencies.

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"2004 Memo Warned of Potential Airport Disaster"

September 12 , 2006

A Lexington airport control tower supervisor reported staff shortages that “can cost lives,” in a safety memo nearly two years before the crash of Comair Flight 5191, which resulted in the death of 49 of the 50 people on board.

The plane tried to take off from a runway that was too short, but the lone tower operator, who had slept only two hours between shifts, failed to notice because he was doing administrative work.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines state that two tower control operators should have been on duty.

The Memo: What It Said

In the safety memo, the supervisor wrote that the air traffic manager refused to call in a mechanical specialist to fix the malfunctioning radar system because it would mean paying two hours of overtime.

“Those types of poorly thought-out decisions can cost lives,” said the supervisor. He made the report through an anonymous NASA system used by pilots and tower operators to express safety concerns.

The memo went on to say that the staffing in the Lexington airport was a “low priority to the powers above us,” who allegedly seem to care more about solving problems at larger airports, including those at Louisville, and Cincinnati.

The Investigation

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fateful August 27th crash. Inadequate staffing is suspected to be a contributing factor.

While radar malfunction is no longer a suspected cause of the accident, former airport control tower operator Scott Zoeckler said this report shows that staff neglect is a problem.

The Southern region vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Victor Santore, said the memo shows that staffing complaints aren’t only coming from common workers who may be seeking more overtime.

"The FAA just characterizes it as union rhetoric, but here you have a member of management trying to warn someone that the facility is short-staffed, and nobody's doing anything about it," Santore said.
Aviation Lawsuits Filed

The first lawsuits were filed by victims’ families earlier this month. The plaintiffs are expected to recover several million dollars in damages each, depending on the projected earnings and life expectancies of the victims.

Since the crash, two control tower operators have been put on Lexington Airport’s overnight shift.

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