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.
Air Traffic Organization
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.
The FAA announced today that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s plan to trim its budget by $637 million in Fiscal Year 2013 under sequestration. Two weeks ago, the FAA released a list of 238 towers potentially facing closure.
Is the FAA’s billion-dollar-a-year NextGen program devolving into a patchwork of technology demonstrations, refined routings to discrete airports and reduced aircraft separations over mainly water? Is the agency’s promised comprehensive overhaul of the National Airspace System chasing its predecessor grand vision—Free Flight—into oblivion?
New en route air traffic control radar for the Nigerian flight information region should be operational by April 12, according to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). A NAMA spokesman said a considerable number of air traffic controllers have already been trained in preparation for the new Lagos and Kano sectors opening for live traffic. The implementation of new voice communications has also been completed at 13 airports in Nigeria.
On Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood laid out the likely consequences to his department and the FAA of possible automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are scheduled to start March 1. In the absence of a revised budget deal between the Obama Administration and Congress, he said the FAA is planning $600 million in cuts through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.
A new Reason Foundation study argues that U.S. passenger airports could support themselves and fund capacity improvements with user fees and long-term financing, eliminating the need for government grants from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The study by the libertarian research organization also proposes spinning off the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) into a separate federal entity that charges users for ATC services.
NextGen is such a vast project, with so many interdependencies–where even if System A is complete and ready to go, it needs Systems B and C before it can be placed into service, and they now won’t be ready for another year or two–that predicting completion dates is a risky business. And predicting the final costs of uncompleted items could be even chancier.
A program that lets air traffic controllers voluntarily report safety concerns without fear of reprisals has come under criticism from the Transportation Department’s inspector general, who told Congress that “significant improvement” is needed to find the root causes of safety risks.
The FAA announced a collaborative public-private NextGen effort at Florida’s major airports late last week that will increase safety and efficiency while reducing aircraft emissions. Dubbed NextGen metroplex, the initiative will improve the flow of air traffic into and out of airports in the Miami, Orlando and Tampa metropolitan areas. Similar metroplex projects are under way or planned in numerous metropolitan areas across the U.S., the FAA added.