Controller operational errors are on the rise, according to a February 27 audit report from the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General (IG), prompted by requests from the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security and, separately, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. According to FAA data, controller operational errors at the Southern California (SoCal) Tracon, jumped from 33 in FY09 to 189 in FY10, an increase of 473 percent.
Terminal Control Center
The FAA lowered the boom on airports serving mainly GA, business and regional airline traffic, announcing on March 22 that it will close 149 ATC contract towers as part of its effort to slash spending by more than $600 million in the current fiscal year under the federal government’s “sequester” mandate. The action could spell the end of the agency’s 30-year-old contract tower program.
Operators at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Bridgeport, Conn., are stepping up efforts to keep their ATC tower open after withdrawal of federal funding. Kyle Slover, COO of local FBO Volo Aviation, told AIN that discussions about options for keeping the tower open on a privately funded basis were already under way before the FAA’s March 22 announcement that 149 towers are to close at U.S. airports beginning April 7.
With the FAA set to announce its finalized cost-cutting plan under sequestration on Monday–which could result in the closing of nearly 170 air traffic control towers and other agency facilities–NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to outline the business aviation community’s “significant concerns” with the plan and offer proposals for mitigating the situation.
The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, have asked the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to look into the rise in the number of losses of ATC separation that began emerging after the FAA’s 2009 update of its operational error reporting protocols. The IG has received a similar request from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The NTSB’s initial report of the July 31 loss of standard ATC separation between three regional airliners operating near Washington’s Reagan Airport (DCA) said the aircraft were not as close as some people at first believed. The Board cited poor ATC coordination as the reason for the incident. The NTSB said the Potomac Tracon supervisor called the supervisor at DCA tower at 2.00 p.m.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has updated its investigation of the May 28 midair collision between a Beechcraft Bonanza and a Piper PA-28 over the Washington, D.C. suburb of Summerduck, Va. The TSB is handling the investigation at the request of NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman to avoid any potential conflicts of interest because the two victims aboard the Bonanza were U.S. government employees.
The FAA has updated JO 7210.822, a guiding document for ATC facilities in determining back-up procedures when a control tower or Tracon is staffed with only a single air traffic controller. The August 15 ruling prohibits automated aircraft handoffs from one facility to another when only one person is on duty. Center, approach and tower controllers will be kept busy with communications checks every 15 minutes during the entire midnight shift.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the media August 2 that the three US Airways-branded regional jets involved in a series of ATC losses of separation near Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA) on July 31 were never in danger of actually colliding.
Acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood broke ground on July 9 for the NextGen ATC tower to be built at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Calif.