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Reported airt-traffic errors rise 81% over 2007
February 25, 2011
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  • By Alan Levin

    More than 1,800 errors by air-traffic controllers – including 43 most likely to cause a midair collision between planes – were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration last year. The agency says that points up the need for greater safety steps.

    Air-traffic errors that allowed planes to get too close together jumped 81% from 2007 to 2010, according to newly released data by the FAA, rising from 1,040 to 1,887. Those most likely to cause a collision or an accident were also up from 34 in 2007 to 43 last year, a 26% increase.

    The higher number of reported errors involving airliners, private planes and military aircraft don’t pose a sudden increase in the risk to fliers, the FAA says. Instead, the agency insists the numbers are the result of several years of effort to improve reporting.

    For years the FAA has been dogged by reports that errors were sometimes covered up. Three years ago, for example, an FAA investigation prompted by whistle-blowers found that reports were routinely falsified at a Dallas facility.

    In response, the agency created a new no-fault system to report errors, developed computers that can routinely spot errors and changed the way it judges air-traffic managers’ job performance. The FAA says the growing number of errors reported are a sign it’s taking safety more seriously.

    “It’s in that spirit that we’re really trying to encourage the reporting and classification of this information – because only then do we have a much safer system going forward,” says Michael Huerta, the FAA’s deputy administrator.

    The agency’s effort for better reporting has driven the vast majority of the increase in errors, Huerta says. The agency says it’s difficult to know whether other factors, such as a steep rise in on-the-job training of new controllers in recent years, could also have caused more errors.

    Based on its study of the error reports, the agency has identified five areas where safety improvements are needed, Huerta says. They include poor coordination between controllers working different areas and difficulties that arise when pilots abort landings and suddenly climb.

    The controllers’ union also says the higher numbers shouldn’t alarm fliers and that it has worked with the FAA to try to improve reporting.

    “Just being open and getting these reports out is the best way to move forward,” says Steven Hansen, safety chairman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union. “We’re not going to know what to fix unless we know what it is. We need the information reported.”

    Source: USA TODAY
    Date: 2011-02-25