Air-traffic errors double
WASHINGTON — 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.A US Airways plane carrying 95 people crossed paths with a small cargo plane in September, coming within 50 to 100 feet of each other while taking off from Minneapolis. A few months earlier, a US Airways Airbus 319 intersected the path of another cargo plane during an aborted landing in Anchorage, Alaska.in fact, an air-traffic controller at the Ronkonkoma, N.Y., radar facility that handled the American plane says he complained about a lax atmosphere at the facility — the second-busiest of its kind in the nation.Controller Evan Seeley, 26, said he ran afoul of the local union when he tried to prevent sick leave and scheduling abuses aimed at increasing overtime pay. even more disturbing were Seeley’s charges that controllers sometimes watch movies and play with electronic devices during nighttime shifts when traffic is slower. He said he has sent his complaints to the Transportation Department’s inspector general and to the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistleblower charges. He claims his recent demotion from his position as a frontline manager was related to the complaints.in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, there were 1,889 operation errors — which usually means aircraft coming too close together, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s official tally. during the same period a year earlier, there were 947 errors. and the year before that there were 1,008 errors.the FAA administrator says the higher number of reported errors is due to better reporting and better technology that can determine more precisely how close planes are in the air.very few of the errors fall into the most serious category, which could result in pilots taking evasive action to prevent an accident. but those instances have also increased. in the year ending Sept. 30, there were 44 such events, 37 in the prior year and 28 in the year before that.Saturday will mark 24 months in a row in which there have been no fatal airline accidents. the last was the crash of a regional airliner Feb. 12, 2009, near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50.
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