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NATCA Responds to Travel + Leisure's "Dangerous" Airports Article - (10/24/2011)

(NATCA has responded to Travel + Leisure magazine's online article about aviation safety at our nation's airports --"T+L's Most Dangerous U.S. Airports" -- with the letter to the editor below)

The decision by Travel and Leisure editors in erroneously using the word "dangerous" to describe U.S. airports ("T+L's Most Dangerous U.S. Airports," Oct. issue) was a textbook example of luring readers through scary, sensational means. The facts, unfortunately, don't support this marketing stunt. Worse, the magazine has done a terrible disservice to the hundreds of thousands of men and women safety professionals in our aviation system whose skill, hard work and dedication allows U.S. travelers to enjoy both the safest and the most efficient airports and airspace in the world.

What Travel and Leisure did not include in its recount of the drop in serious runway incursions since 2000 is that the number of these incursions has dropped by at least 50 percent each year since 2008. Near accidents are not more common than you might think; last year, there were 0.12 serious runway incursions per million operations.

Our professionals strive for perfection every day they go to work. Close runway calls are not more common than airports like to admit; every imperfection is recorded and reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because these professionals want to do the job flawlessly and make the system the safest it can possibly be. And it’s getting there. Today, air travel is the safest form of transportation. The numbers prove it; per billion kilometers, the fatality rate by transportation mode is 0.05 for air, whereas rail is 0.6, car is 3.1, bicycle is 44.6 and foot is 54.2.

But aviation safety does not rest solely in the hands of our aviation community-it also rests in the hands of our government. The nation’s exemplary aviation safety record hangs in the balance each time Congress fails to pass a long-term plan to fund the FAA. We are now on our 22nd short-term extension of the FAA reauthorization bill and it expires in 100 days (from Oct. 24, 2011).

We have some of the safest runway initiatives in existence; the FAA and NATCA along with the rest of the aviation community are working together, better than ever, to implement initiatives like prototype testing of Runway Incursion Prevention Devices (RIPD), Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS), improvements to Runway Safety Areas (RSA) and several others. And these are just the short-term initiatives. We have a comprehensive plan for implementing initiatives in 2012 through 2018 and initiatives for implementation in 2018 and beyond, but without a long-term solution from the government, these critical investments in future capacity will be put on hold.

NATCA holds continuous dialogue about safety of the aviation system. We are involved in the eight training programs put into service by the 2007 call to action and have been a part of the development and implementation of the related technologies. At the ICAO Regional Runway Safety Symposium held this month, our facility representatives from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Miami Center participated on several panels and Dale Wright, NATCA Director of Safety and Technology, attended. We host an annual Communicating for Safety Conference, attend the Regional Aviation Safety Group and Team meetings on a weekly basis, have internal IT and National Safety Committees and a Realignment Committee, on which we collaborate with the FAA to create safer and more efficient air traffic control operations.

America’s air traffic controllers want nothing more than to ensure traveler safety, but they can’t do it alone. That’s why Congress must lay aside its difference to come up with a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill.

Paul Rinaldi
President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association

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