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FAA Admits to Spike in Operational Errors at Nation's Busiest Radar Approach Control - (2/1/2008)

CONTACTS:     Ham Ghaffari, NATCA Western Pacific Regional VP, 661-400-2496; Mel Davis, NATCA Southern California TRACON (available primarily after 2 p.m. PST), 858-243-2921; Mike Foote, NATCA Los Angeles International Airport Tower (available after 10 a.m. PST), 562-619-7107. 

SAN DIEGO – The Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic manager for the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility issued a memo on Wednesday to all air traffic personnel immediately stopping all on-the-job training for one week in response to what she described as a “recent spike in Operational Errors/Operational Deviations,” which are incidents where controller mistakes result in aircraft coming closer to each other than FAA safety rules allow.

The FAA memo, sent from Southern California TRACON Air Traffic Manager Linda K. O’Brien, does not provide details on the number and severity of recent operational errors. But NATCA has been tracking the errors. Controllers report that in Fiscal Year 2007, there were 22 total errors, including 16 that were classified as the most serious, called “Category A” or “Category B.” Additionally, there were four operational deviations, which are violations of airspace where an aircraft enters another controller’s airspace without authorization or coordination. But just four months into Fiscal Year 2008, there have already been 18 operational errors – including 11 of the most serious “Category A or B” kind – and two operational deviations. 

To view the memo, click here: SCTOPErrors013008.pdf

Trainees at Southern California TRACON make up nearly one-quarter of the entire workforce, which is degrading the quality of the training process and the safety of the operation, according to NATCA. Additionally, in a February 2007 report on controller staffing, the Department of Transportation Inspector General stated, “The increase in the percentage of developmental controllers is a concern because it means there will be fewer certified controllers within the workforce to control air traffic and to provide (on the job training)."  

Earlier this month, NATCA declared a staffing emergency at Southern California TRACON, the nation’s busiest radar approach control facility. The number of fully certified and experienced controllers at the facility which handles all flights going in and out of the major airports in the entire region, has dropped 40 percent since 2004. With staffing numbers well below that needed to provide adequate rest and recuperation time for controllers between shifts, almost 85 percent of them are now regularly working six-day weeks. In 2007, many controllers logged well over 40 days of overtime. On one occasion this month, FAA management officials were forced to slow down traffic heading into Orange County, Long Beach and Ontario, Calif., airports due to short staffing.

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