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NATCA Shares NTSB Concerns about Runway Safety, Condemns FAA's "Two-Tiered" Approach in Addressing Solutions - (11/15/2005)

WASHINGTON – In the wake of an annual National Transportation Safety Board meeting this morning where the board is expected to again spotlight runway safety, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr will tell the Wings Club in New York this afternoon that runway incidents are evidence that the Federal Aviation Administration is not taking a comprehensive approach to maintenance and modernization of the U.S. air traffic control system.

Pointing to recent promises made by the FAA to install a critical ground radar system, called Airport Surface Detection Equipment, model X – designed to prevent runway incursions – at only select airports by 2011, Carr will condemn the FAA’s decision to, in effect, create a “two-tiered” safety system in which threats are dealt with reactively and fast-growing, medium-sized airports in important cities are largely ignored.

“What runway incursions have brought to the surface is the FAA’s haphazard approach to system-wide reform that is already eroding the margin of safety for U.S. air travelers,” Carr said, before his speech. “The ASDE-X installation commitments, like so many others made by the FAA, came only after our public outcry. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey continues to address serious safety issues in this way. The fact that the FAA’s installation of ASDE-X in limited cities will take six years does little to address our concerns about dangerous incidents over the last six weeks.”

Airport runway incursions have taken on critical significance after a spate of recent, high-profile incidents in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Tampa. Controllers in those cities and others view these incidents as symptoms of the larger safety issues confronting air travelers – like staffing cuts and system-wide modernization – that Carr will cover in his speech. As recently as last month, the NTSB itself declared that ASDE-X was an improvement over existing systems and urged the FAA to “acquire, without further delay, effective means to prevent runway incursions and improve runway safety.”

Carr today will voice the serious safety concerns of controllers and echo the NTSB’s statement by demanding that the FAA take immediate steps to decrease runway incursions. Doing so would at least indicate that the agency is taking a comprehensive approach toward much-needed reform of the U.S. air traffic system, he said.

Says Carr, in his speech: “But just like staffing, it has taken years for the FAA to even acknowledge the problem. Finally, last week, after a barrage of negative publicity on runway incursions – and another plea from air traffic controllers – the FAA announced that some airports would be getting the [ASDE-X] system. Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on SOME airports. In fact, only 16 airports will be getting the technology, leaving dozens of other major airports completely uncovered. If you need proof that even medium sized airports desperately need these systems, I invite you to look at Tampa, where some of the recent incursions occurred. According to the FAA, that airport simply does not deserve ASDE-X.

“Well, I put it to you, as I put it to the administrator: controllers at all airports need this technology. Installing it at some airports is good, but creating a two-tier system of safety in this country isn’t just wrong, it’s downright dangerous.”

Air traffic controllers on the ground have also used recent runway incursions to voice serious concerns about the FAA’s piecemeal approach to safety. Ron Adamski, NATCA’s facility representative at Chicago Midway Tower, said, “We have had a ration of incidents lately that could have been avoided if we had ASDE-X. One of them involved two airplanes rolling down crossing runways at the same time. The ground controller caught it. The controllers go above and beyond what is normal every day to manage over 300,000 operations a year. Runway crossings all day long mean that we need the technology to deal with them.”

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