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Former FAA Employee Who Cut Air Traffic Communication Receives Probation

January 29, 2021, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated January 29, 7:19 AM
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Courtesy of PC Aviator website

A federal judge sentenced a former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee to two years probation after pleading guilty to severing communications between Air Traffic Control in Honolulu and aircraft flying above and around the O‘ahu city.

Joelyn DeCosta, 48, of Honolulu, was sentenced Thursday. She was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

DeCosta pleaded guilty to willfully and maliciously interfering with the working and use of a communication system operated and controlled by the United States. The incident occurred on Jan. 4, 2019.

According to the US Attorney’s Office, DeCosta shut down the main and standby communication lines between Hawai‘i Air Traffic Control and pilots of approximately six planes during one incident. Additionally, approximately four planes during a second incident were affected by the outages. Communication was down in an area known as Sector 4, which covers flights between O‘ahu and Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka’i, Kaho‘olawe and the Big Island.

“In total, pilots could not hear instructions from Air Traffic Control for a total of two minutes, as a result of the outages caused by the defendant,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

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One of the pilots of an aircraft affected by the outage spoke as a victim at DeCosta’s sentencing. He emphasized the danger to himself and the 40 passengers on board his aircraft posed by the outage.

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“The United States Attorney’s Office takes any threat to the safety of the air traveling public very seriously, and will vigorously enforce federal criminal laws against any federal employee who abuses their position and, in doing so, puts air travelers in harm’s way,” said US Attorney Kenji M. Price.

DeCosta was employed by the FAA for 26 years.

“Employees of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are entrusted with safely overseeing the busiest and most complex air transportation system in the world. Key to that trust is maintaining an uncompromising level of integrity in their work, which many FAA personnel do,” said Cissy Tubbs, Special Agent-in-Charge, Western Region, Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General – Investigations.

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Thursday’s sentencing, Tubbs added, demonstrates their commitment to working with law enforcement partners and the US Attorney’s Office to detect and prevent those willing to compromise the safety of the National Airspace System and the traveling public.

As part of a plea agreement with the prosecution, DeCosta resigned from the FAA before she was sentenced. As a result, she lost her retirement benefits, which were estimated to have been worth in excess of $500,000.

The case was investigated by the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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