Local News

Friendly Skies Might Not Be So Safe After All

Posted December 12, 2007 6:57 p.m. EST

— 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.