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Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known

So far this year, close calls involving commercial airlines have been happening, on average, multiple times a week, according to a Times analysis of internal F.A.A. records, as well as thousands of pages of federal safety reports and interviews with more than 50 current and former pilots, air traffic controllers and federal officials. The incidents often occur at or near airports and are the result of human error, the agency’s internal records show. Mistakes by air traffic controllers —… ( More...

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William Pearson 10
I wish I could read the article, but the NYT's pay wall blocks it.
sweeper239 9
I agree Flight aware should not use links to paid sites
Rich Pelkowski 17
I find this NYT's article informative and fairly accurate, with the EXCEPTION of their assertion of the ROOT CASUE.. Understand that my direct knowledge of the situation with air traffic is nearing fifteen years old. A couple of personal thoughts/opinions:
*These "Operational Errors", official FAA term for occurrences of less than standard separation, occur perhaps dozens of times on a daily basis.
* More incidents are reported today for a number of reasons, but mainly as a result of immunity from any type of prosecution afforded pilots and controllers if the incident is self reported. Immunity has not always been the case.
* As the article pointed out, many reports are not independently corroborated.
* Pilots and Controllers relying too heavily on automation to do their jobs
* Controllers have always assumed a martyrs attitude, since it enhances their stature and financial well being; i.e the sky is always falling. Some examples from the NYT article:
“Is it going to take people dying for something to move forward?”
“Controllers are making mistakes left and right. Fatigue is extreme,” the report continued. “The margin for safety has eroded tenfold. Morale is rock bottom. I catch myself taking risks and shortcuts I normally would never take.”
“It is only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.”
* I can vouch for the fact, staffing at the busier ATC facilities has been an issue since at least 1969 when I hired on with the FAA; i.e. this is not a new phenomena.
more personal thoughts on the root of more recent staffing problems later.
* I have never heard it termed "The Rattler", but the Controller work schedule listed is that preferred and primarily instituted by the union, since it provides more time off between the last shift of the week and the first day of the next workweek.
* I would DISPUTE the NYT assertion about the root of the problem. The system was rebuilt following the August 3, 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controller (PATCO) strike.
Air-traffic control shortages predate the FAA’s current leadership. Though I am not a fan of the current administration, I challenge anyone to find a time in modern history when major Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Air Traffic Control facilities were fully or even close to being fully staffed. While a Controller at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) in the early to mid 1970s, I don't recall the journeyman level staffing exceeding 50% -60% of what was authorized.

The primary problem is that the FAA is a government agency and operates at the whim of politicians. As a result, hiring has always been sporadic, even though since 1972 (Public Law 92-297) the FAA knows definitively what impact retirement will have on the workforce since a Controller is required to retire at age 56, but fail to hire replacements accordingly.

To further exacerbate the situation, in December 2013, the FAA dropped the preference for College Training Initiative (CTI) graduates (your brother graduated from the Community College of Beaver County which was one of the first CTI schools) and instead relied only on a biographical questionnaire to fill controller positions. Those colleges believe the FAA changes were made based on an agency diversity study that examined the race and gender of CTI graduates. Established by the FAA in1982, the CTI was a very successful college training program eventually enlisting 28 colleges to provide initial air traffic control training. Prior to December 2013, many colleges, such as the Community College of Beaver County, maintained a minimum of a 6 month long waiting list to enter the program. After the December 2013 change a number of these schools discontinued the ATC curriculum due to a lack of students. In fiscal year 2020, the Air Traffic Controller Hiring Reform Act was enacted in an attempt to rectify the problems incurred as a result of the December 2013 decision. The recent law now gives preference to those who have graduated with a four-year degree from a CTI school or have parallel military ATC experience. However it will take years to overcome the 2013 fiasco; i.e. hiring individuals who might not have had the ability and motivation to due the job. In the meantime "the chickens are coming home to roost", in the form of increased incidents.

Prior to 1973, individuals who had been Controllers in the military were a primary source of hirees for the FAA. Since the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of the "Draft", the military is no longer a significant contribution to FAA staffing.
dantindall 9
I agree with almost everything you wrote here with the exception of the military as a source comment. I recently retired from a 33 year (active duty and civilian) career in the USAF. The military is still a primary source for the FAA. Military facilities make up many of the approach controls around the country and they are all staffed at 60 percent or less of authorized manpower.

Another aspect not covered in the NYT article was the freeze on new hires back in the Clinton administration. The FAA actually shut down their training facility in OKC for over 2 years during that period and while it isn't a direct cause, it did exacerbate the situation. They have struggled to get their training numbers back to the earlier days.

If you add inexperienced pilots to inexperienced controllers, then an increase in errors and incidents is all but guaranteed to occur. The FAA has some tools at its disposal to reduce controller workloads and improve the overall system but have failed to receive the proper funding to put them into the field.
Jon Speed 4
Paywall - can’t read the article.
Tom Bruce 4
been awhile since I was ATC... but had a few instances, as a tower controller, where I screwed up or a pilot did...most were resolved over a land line ...and no reports... are there more occurrences now? or just becoming part of the news cycle until something else grabs their attention??
Dale Scott 4
How many can recall United Airlines policy of making ATC communications accessible for passengers who were interested in listening. In days of too much travel I found it a great distraction:
ATC: "Delta 123 you are clear to use ramp xyz"
Delta: "Delta 123, clear to go xyz"
ATC: "Lufthansa 456, you follow the delta flight and then you are clear to use ramp xyz"
Lufthansa: "Lufthansa clear to use xyz"
I had been listening to ground control at JFK (because that was what our crew in the cockpit was listening to), late at night, and it was snowing. My flight waiting for de-icing. Within a minute of the radio traffic above, the Lufthansa flight had to veer off the pavement, to avoid a collision and was stuck. As a first responder I was trained to listen carefully to communication details. I recognized only added risk (from less than complete closure to the last ATC instruction).
David Beattie 2
As usual, you can thank the lawyers. For instance, a pax hears the pilot say the DME is inop… Pax “Oh my god! The DME is not working, we’re all going to die!” Then they sue the airline (and usually win) because they thought they were going to die and the trauma of being stupid will harm them for life.
jmilleratp 8
All the money that our government wastes could easily pay for a full modernization of Air Traffic Control and for hiring the needed new controllers.
boughbw 2
I don't think so. The attempts at modernizing the system have only revealed gaps in the technology that underlined the need for human controllers. Prior to the recent (as in THIS YEAR) developments and proof of Artificial Intelligence, such a solution was mostly an illusion. It probably still is until the AI gets worked out. So what does modernization really look like? It will be investments in software more than hardware. It will also be upgrades to commercial airliners. The cost isn't trivial and going with controllers remains the only viable solution.
Jim Newton 2
Gotta say that I will NEVER board any that is controlled by AI. There should ALWAYS be a live someone manning the left seat - No Exceptions!
Bill Overdue -3
Ya you will, you just won't know it! Probably happening already. Besides the race and gender quotas, that's a lot of the problem now?
victorbravo77 5
Thank you for sharing this piece of good ol' fashioned investigative journalism.
Paul Ipolito -6
Yes sir. Just another piece from that rotten, no-good, woke, NYT that spends most of it's time "witch hunting" a certain politician. This is the first political comment I have posted here and it will be my last. I also expect this comment to have a shelf-life of roughly 15 minutes. I apologize to all for using this forum for a rant.
Steve Oravets 4
This forum isn't an airport. You don't have to announce your departure. No one cares what you think.
Of course we care. Everyone's comments are significant in one way or another, even yours.
Steve Oravets -1
Hey Bud, Do you think anyone cares what you think either?
Nooge 1
Just another post from a rotten, no-good, anti woke, Conned -servative that spends most of his time blindly supporting a whining certain out on bail politician inmate number P01135809 who lost re election

I apologize to all for using this forum to speak out about a rant.

I must say one fact is that on a rare occasion inmate number P01135809 has been truthful

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?"

Lets agree that Paul is still solidly behind inmate number P01135809 and would have no issue with shooting someone on fifth ave or at The Capitol as long as it was a ByeDon supporter
Trump derangement syndrome going on in his head!
Bill Overdue 0
Are you high?
Steve Oravets -1
I agree!
Paul Ipolito 2
I have zero experience with airport operations, except as a passenger. I am wondering if this is a new issue or simply a statistical result of many more post-covid flights and increased reporting of these incidents?
victorbravo77 9
Use the entire link:
jmilleratp 6
Thanks for this!
Yes, thank you!
Tim Dyck 1
Thank You
If you put your device on reader view, you will be able to read the article, even if it’s behind a pay wall
Karen Chaney 1
How do you do that.
the close calls will slow down again, for a while, when there is another 'Tenerife' style accident.
midcon07 1
I usually read comments to the stories that interest me here, don't usually reply though. But I 'gotta' say this topic conceived one of the most colorful and unusual conversations I have read here in many a day. Fair points by both sides. Not much mudslinging. America at its finest.
I love Flightaware but I don't love the fact that it has become a haven for story sources that want you to sign up for a subscription to view the article. I would rather see reporting by local news reporters than these people that want you to pay, and then half their reports are inaccurate anyway.
James Thompson 1
Elephant in the room: Have any other pilots noticed a correlation between ATC errors and the FAA's desire to fill "minority and/or female" quotas?
David Beattie 1
As usual, the press (left and right) has found a story with traction that titillates the public. They will beat the dead horse for months. I’m not sure how one can be sure whether there are more close calls or more REPORTS of close calls. I remember when runway incursions became a big thing about a decade ago. Sensor systems were installed at the runways hold lines. If your radome stuck out six inches into the beam, you are dinged for a runway incursion so there were many more reports c
Bill Overdue 0
It's an absolute miracle that planes aren't falling out of the sky "yet"! One has to keep in mind this is the same Transportation Secretary that says 2,000+ train derailments is "not a big deal"? The fundamentally flawed "gender and race" requirements in this Administrations hiring process allow the bottom of the barrel "illiterate, incompetent and dangerous individuals" to run rampant with the responsibility freely given them. If the truth "really" came out, no one over 30 yrs old would fly at all. There's a lot of truth finally coming out from the repugnant people in charge of America. Will anything change? I doubt it. Remember these terms, you'll hear a lot more of them in the coming days ... "Plausible deniability", "acceptable collateral damage", "willful blindness" and "unintended consequences".
Steve Oravets 0
The Pilots Union needs to keep sticking this message into the National Media's eye. Make our skies the model of ATC Technology Safety! Whatever it cost! Take the money from some useless, politically driven, project. The Republicans could stop blocking the Presidents Infrastructure Bill and pass it for the benefit of the entire nation. I guess my head is in the clouds on that thought.
Bab Bezat 0
Paywall. 🤬

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Nooge -1
Actually the 'New York Lies" come from the lips of inmate out on bail No. P01135809

One of the few honest things he said was he could shot someone on 5th ave and not lose any votes

Lock him up
Steve Oravets 3
Lock him up and put an end to his shit-show. The entire country has been threatened to its core over one deranged, broke-ass, self-proclaimed billionaire for years now! It's time for him and his cult-followers to go! LOCK HIM UP! FIX AND UPDATE THE ATC SYSTEM NOW!
Bill Ross -2
You want to read their lies and not pay for it? Two faced


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