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FAA Misses Key Safety Goal for October by 36 Percent, Despite Creative Math Tactics to Artificially Lower Serious Incidents - (11/7/2007)

CONTACT:     Doug Church, 202-220-9802; 301-346-8245 (cell)

WASHINGTON – The number of serious incidents of aircraft getting too close in the air rose sharply last month, exceeding the Federal Aviation Administration’s goal for the month by 36 percent. 

There were 38 serious incidents – classified as Category “A” and “B” operational errors by the FAA – in October, easily surpassing the FAA’s “performance limit” of 28. An operational error is defined as a violation of separation standards that define minimum safe distances between aircraft. 

The FAA document that shows the October numbers can be found here.

Because the FAA’s “performance limit” for Category “A” and “B” errors in October 2006 was 53, NATCA believes October 2007 is the first month in which the FAA implemented a new system of reclassifying errors in an attempt to try and re-baseline and lower the number of Category “A” and “B” errors it counts simply by moving numbers around that define the scope of a serious breach of separation standards. In other words, NATCA President Patrick Forrey said, “The FAA made it much harder to have a Category ‘A’ or ‘B’ error because planes have to get closer together to reach that level.” And yet, Forrey added, there were 10 more Category “A” and “B” errors last month than the re-baselined “performance limit.” 

According to a PowerPoint presentation from June that explains the new error classification system, the FAA declares, in the “conclusion” section, that, “There’s a number of ways to meet any particular goal,” which Forrey believes shows the FAA’s desire to mislead the public on the true margin of safety in the air traffic control system at a time when veteran controllers, new hires and trainees are voluntarily leaving the workforce in record numbers out of anger at the lack of a new contract and the FAA’s forced implementation of draconian work rules. 

Forrey said it is alarming, but certainly not surprising, that errors are up. That’s because there are 1,200 fewer veteran controllers working right now than a year ago. Additionally, new hires and trainees now comprise one-quarter of the workforce, an unmanageably high level not seen since after the 1981 PATCO strike.

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