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Reduced Staffing and Increased Traffic Volume Contribute to Error That Results in Close Call Near Las Vegas Thursday - (10/5/2007)

CONTACT:     Garth Koleszar, Los Angeles Center 909-725-1908; Hamid Ghaffari, NATCA Western Pacific VP, 661-400-2496 

PALMDALE, Calif. – Two jets were forced to take evasive action at 28,000 feet – 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas – on Thursday (Oct. 4) to avoid the possibility of colliding while en route to Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The jets where being maneuvered by air traffic controllers to comply with heavy delays into Las Vegas due to traffic volume. One of the aircraft had been cleared to descend through the altitude occupied by the other.  

The error occured at 1:06 p.m. PDT. The aircraft – EJA708, a Citation 750, and N733SW, a Learjet – came within 2.6 miles of each other. It would have been closer, but each took evasive action via control instructions and the on-board traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS). The aircrafts’ speeds where both in excess of 400 knots. They were being vectored for spacing so their flight paths were converging. 

Air traffic controllers at understaffed Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center, where the error occurred, say this was an unfortunate example of what happens in an overstressed, overworked, understaffed situation, which happens routinely. 

“This is another example of the Federal Aviation Administration trying to do too much with too little,” said Los Angeles Center NATCA Facility Representative Garth Koleszar. “A controller returning to the work area had to take action on his own to assist the controller who was yelling for help. Unfortunately, he was too late and the traffic complexity had already reached extreme levels. The controller jumping in to help didn’t even have time to receive a briefing on the sector traffic situations prior to the error. The FAA supervisor had left the work area moments before and had neglected to provide the controller with the needed help.” 

Dwindling resources are a critical component, Koleszar said. “This controller was left to work at above the sector volume at extremely complex levels by himself,” he said. “Anytime there is sequencing due to high airport traffic demand, a controller’s work load goes up exponentially.” 

Koleszar said that with increasing frequency, controllers are forced to work increased traffic volumes without help because of staffing issues. “This is when mistakes happen,” he said. “Sadly, controllers are leaving the FAA at an increasing rate because of the FAA’s treatment of its employees. It will get worse before it gets better.”

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