Former FAA employee 'maliciously' caused a communications blackout between 10 planes and Air Traffic Control over Hawaii

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A former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee has been sentenced to two years of probation and a $5,000 fine for interfering with communications between Air Traffic Control and several planes.

A federal judge sentenced Joelyn DeCosta, 48, for “willfully and maliciously interfering” with air traffic communications in Honolulu, Hawaii.

DeCosta’s actions caused a communications blackout while at least 10 planes were airborne, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a press release.

On one occasion, the main and standby communication lines between Air Traffic Control and approximately six planes were severed, the statement said.

A second incident resulted in four other planes being impacted by outages, the DoJ added.

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Pilots were unable to hear directions from Air Traffic Control for a total of two minutes, according to the press release.

A pilot, who spoke at the sentencing, said 40 passengers on his plane were put in significant danger by the outages.

“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 for the District of Hawaii Kenji M. Price.

DeCosta had been working for the FAA for 26 years before the incidents.

She agreed to resign from her position as an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist, before the sentencing, as part of a plea agreement.

As a result, DeCosta lost her retirement benefits — estimated by the DoJ to have been worth more than $500,000.

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