TULSA air traffic controllers set record for error-free operations

Thursday, August 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A record 4 million error-free takeoffs and landings by Tulsa air traffic controllers sets a new standard for every airport in the country, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Friday.

Controllers at Tulsa International Airport haven't allowed two airplanes to come too close in eight years.

``Customer service just doesn't get any better than this record,'' Mineta said in honoring the 46 controllers and 35 technicians and managers who keep Tulsa's tower operating.

Tower officials credited teamwork and focus for putting Tulsa air passengers in the best hands in the country.

The closest challengers to Tulsa's record are Fort Smith, Ark., which has 2.3 million safe operations and El Paso, Texas, at 2.1 million.

Tulsa International's air traffic doesn't approach the press of aircraft seen at hub airports. But controllers here are faced with other challenges, including military traffic, general aviation and international pilots training at a nearby aviation school, said Doug Murphy, FAA southwest regional air traffic manager.

``It's still the same number of opportunities to make a mistake,'' he said.

A landing by Southwest Airlines marked the record 4 millionth safe operation. The airline's chairman, Herb Kelleher, said he told his employees ``don't screw this one up.'' He likened the streak to those of Joe DiMaggio, Walter Payton and Hank Aaron.

``It's a very comforting thing,'' he said. ``All of our customers and employees thank them tremendously.''

Mineta said he wants to see Tulsa's record replicated nationwide as airports try to balance demand for air travel with airport capacity. That, he said, is the mission President Bush assigned to him in naming him transportation secretary.

``Little did I know the Tulsa team had already gotten the president's message,'' he said.

Tower manager Joe Gill said his crew is set up so that every employee's job interlaces with another to act as a safety check.

``They're very focused, very proud and work well together,'' he said.

The safety record comes despite an aging tower that has prompted air traffic controllers to send letters of concern to federal officials.

They complained that the tower, constructed in the early 1960s, is outdated, too small and has had problems with heating, air conditioning and water leaks.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said limited funding and uncertainty about an airport proposal to construct a third runway makes refurbishment the best choice for now.