Air traffic controller appeals charge of violating 9-11 flight

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- The only air traffic controller charged with violating a nationwide shutdown on Sept. 11, 2001, is appealing the decision.

William C. Noble III was fired in April for allowing a FedEx cargo plane to take off from the Great Falls airport on Sept. 11, 2001. A federal magistrate convicted him this summer of violating a Federal Aviation Administration order, a misdemeanor, and fined him $500.

In his appeal, Noble, 47, contends the FAA order was unclear.

Noble has declined to comment while arbitration is ongoing, as have officials from his union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

At trial, Noble said the FAA order was not in keeping with the agency's longstanding policy of allowing planes that fly without the aid of airport tower staff to depart even when a ground stop order has been issued. That's how the FedEx pilot chose to fly that day, and that's why Noble allowed him to depart, he said.

The FAA message to its 21 regional air traffic centers, including Salt Lake City, ordered the controllers to ground stop all departures because of a national emergency.

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