Air Traffic Control Errors

February 25, 2011

New data from the Federal Aviation Administration shows that reported air traffic control errors have increased by 81 percent since 2007. Errors that were most likely to result in a collision or accident jumped 26 percent from 2007 to 2010. 

The FAA claims that the unsettling numbers are merely the result of an effort to improve reporting. The USA Today notes that “For years the FAA has been dogged by reports that errors were sometimes covered up.” Hopefully, that is the case. However, the article notes that “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.” 

As we recently discussed, a Department of Transportation inspector general’s audit of an FAA contract with Raytheon to train controllers found numerous problems. From the audit
In designing and executing the ATCOTS program, FAA did not fully consider program requirements. As a result, FAA now faces significant challenges in achieving the program’s goals. To date, the ATCOTS contract costs and fees have exceeded baseline estimates by 35 percent during the first year of the contract (from $81 million to $109 million) and increased by 20 percent during the second year (from $91 million to $109 million). More importantly, those funds have only been sufficient to support existing training methods and procedures; innovations, such as pilot programs for new capabilities to reduce training time and cost, have not been implemented. 
A Cato essay on the air traffic control system explains that the FAA has an established record of mismanagement. Thus, it’s hard to take comfort in the FAA’s assurance that the public need not be alarmed by the spike in errors under our government-run air traffic control system. Unfortunately, while Canada’s privatized air traffic control system continues to receive global accolades, Congress has shown little interest in replicating the success of our neighbor to the north.




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