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Friendly Skies Might Not Be So Safe After All

Posted December 12, 2007

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— The number of near-miss collisions in the sky and on runways across the country are up this year, and a local air-traffic controller says the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.

"There's too many airplanes in the system and not enough experienced controllers to deal with it," said John Brown who has been an air-traffic controller for 24 years – the past 15 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

"I think everybody should be concerned about it," he said. "It's something I think about whenever I fly or my family flies."

A new federal report has found that air travelers are at a high risk for near mid-air collisions.

Just this week, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a US Airways pilot said he had to bank to avoid a business jet just south of Greensboro. No one was hurt.

And last month, a plane flying from Greensboro narrowly avoided a collision over Indiana because of an air traffic controller's mistake.

Brown said the problem really began recently when the FAA imposed its new contract with pay cuts and fewer incentives for air-traffic controllers.

"That's a lot of experience walking out the door," he said.

In addition to the Greensboro near-misses, two planes landing on perpendicular runways nearly collided over the weekend at JFK International Airport in New York.

Last Thursday, at Newark Internatonal Airport, a Continental Airlines express jet was within 300 feet of an arriving plane from Toronto.

Brown said RDU had 48 fully certified air-traffic controllers a few years. Next month, there will be 30. About a dozen more are currently in training.

7 Comments

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  • GoldsboroWolf 98 Dec 13, 2007

    I would definitely only fly if I had too. I do not fly for enjoyment. I believe statistics about safety are skewed to favor aviation so people will not be afraid to fly. I would like to see real world death statistics when comparing driving to flying. Use 25-55 year old drivers(my category), take out the actual drunk drivers side of the equation, excessive speeders, ill-maintained cars, etc, you can see where I am going with this. Then compare the numbers to aviation. I can almost guarantee their would be a different picture.

  • juliemc58 Dec 12, 2007

    It makes me not want to fly anymore.

  • Sherlockholmes Dec 12, 2007

    Another reason why we will never see personal bubblecraft, could you just imagine the outer beltline 1000 feet above the ground. WOW !!

  • Travised Dec 12, 2007

    THANK YOU bfb. Not sure the technical for "near miss" on the tarmac. This is a scare article people, ignore it.

    They don't want to report all the auto collisions they had on I-40 due to DRIVER ERROR last week; and the car wrecks near Chicago again (35W in Iowa was a mess), driver at fault (not paying attention due to weather). Stations love making a huge drama when it comes to airplanes because they are so safe and it is RARE for there to be an incident.

    Where with cars, auto accidents are something we see daily, and reporting those would be the same as reporting the grass grow, who would want to hear that?

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Dec 12, 2007

    The U.S. Air Traffic Control (ATC) system actually suffers in 3 main areas IMHO:
    1) Modernization - quantity of planes increases but the ATC's capabilities are still the same as the 1970s. The monies from the landings fees which were supposed to go to the ATC upgrades were syphoned by Congress for other pork projects;
    2) Pilot training - both general aviation and commercial pilots suffer from lack of quality training on an on-going basis. Yes, GA has to go through a biennial flight review, but this may not be enough depending on the flight hours between review periods.
    3) ATC staff and Homeland Security - since 9/11/2001, I believe the ATC staff are under the gun of Homeland Security, and there is considerable oversight on the ATC staff operations. The ATC work is very stressful when managing high-traffic areas, and no amount of increase pay compensates for this work stress.

    Until the above three areas are addressed, our airspace will always be dangerous.

  • leo-nc Dec 12, 2007

    There are plenty of contract ATC companies out there who manage lower traffic towers across the country. Some of them are going that route, and getting decent pay for it. As for the separation, for IFR traffic it's 3 miles horizontal or 1000 ft vertical. As you go up in altitude, so do those requirements. It used to be 2000ft V or 5 miles H.

  • bfbnyc Dec 12, 2007

    What's considered a near miss? It used to be 1 mile was close. I have closer calls driving in Raleigh. I think the report is a way to strongarm the FAA into payraises. Airlines have cut back on all domestic and foreign flights, which means less Air traffic. As for all the expierenced Controllers leaving because of PAY.. Where are they going to go and get this type of work?