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In a time of unparalleled aviation safety in the United States, reports of mistakes by air traffic controllers have nearly doubled — a seeming contradiction that has safety experts puzzled.
The latest incident — the near midair collision of an American Airlines jet with 259 people aboard and two Air Force transport planes southeast of New York City, has raised eyebrows in Congress and led to questions about a nonpunitive culture of error reporting in air-traffic control facilities.
Babbitt said the rise in the number of errors is because of a new safety program that protects controllers from punishment for errors they voluntarily report The program is aimed at increasing error reporting so trends can be spotted and new training methods, changes in procedures or other actions can be taken. It is modeled after a successful error-reporting program for airline pilots.
The program, which started in 2008 and was fully phased in last year, is receiving about 250 reports a week. But safety experts note that those reports generally aren't counted in FAA's official error tally.
The air traffic controllers in the Washington region, who direct more than 1.5 million flights, have made a record number of mistakes this year, triggering cockpit collision warning systems dozens of times.
Later that day, the FAA press officer sent me a statement the FAA had prepared in response to the Post stories. The gist was that any increase in errors was attributable to the FAA's transition in fiscal year 2010 "to a non-punitive error reporting system." Before the switchover, air traffic controllers didn't always report their errors to their superiors because they feared reprisal. Under the new system, there was no reprisal when an air traffic controller reported a boo-boo that his boss failed to notice. Granted such absolution, air traffic controllers were reporting more boo-boos.
The Federal Aviation Administration has already spent $1.8 billion on the system aimed at providing faster routes and safely packing more planes into the high-altitude cruising phase of flight.
Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said it could take between three to six years and up to $500 million more to finish the project managed by the FAA and its contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
way tooo close
coming within 50 to 100 feet of each other while taking off
controllers sometimes watch movies and play with electronic devices during nighttime shifts when traffic is slower