April 21, 2011
Watching the Watchmen: FAA responds to severe safety scrutiny with national inspection
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has launched a nationwide tour to inspect airport standards and practices. This action follows numerous reports of air traffic controllers compromising passenger safety through incidents such as falling asleep on the job. The most recent report involved a White House plane carrying Michelle Obama that had to abort its landing after coming dangerously close to a 200-ton C-17 cargo plane, allegedly because of controller error.
The FAA is taking measures to respond to scrutiny by addressing air traffic control problems that some say have been decades in the making. Such concerns include insufficient air traffic controller staffing, a backlog of training and fatigue from overworked employees.
The FAA also faces extensive budget cuts after the House of Representatives approved a $4 billion decrease over the next four years. With an anticipated 3.5 percent increase in passengers each year, the lack of funding has the potential to inhibit the FAA's efforts to improve safety standards by delaying technological upgrades necessary to improve air traffic control systems and hire more staff.
"This problem has been brewing for a very long time, and the FAA has not taken strong action," said Mary Schiavo, Motley Rice aviation attorney and former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation. "For example, the sleeping controllers were around when I was Inspector General in the 90's. We addressed those issues, but the FAA didn't react. It shouldn't have come to this, but it has been a long time coming."
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