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NATCA Presents Top Five Reasons to Feel Better About Air Travel in 2011 - (11/17/2011)

CONTACT: Sarah Dunn, 202-220-9813; sdunn@natcadc.org

WASHINGTON – In preparation for the upcoming holiday travel season, NATCA remains committed to ensuring traveler safety and presents five reasons to feel better about air travel:

1.   More Controllers Are On The Job: Between July 2010 and September 2011, the number of fully certified air traffic controllers grew from 12,127 to 12,601 (1), a 3.9 percent increase.

2.   Runways Are Safer Than Ever: The number of serious runway incursions dropped by 50 percent between 2009 and 2010 after falling by 52 percent the year before.(2) Incursions are instances in which planes, vehicles or other objects present a possible collision risk to a moving airplane. In 2010, the latest year when numbers are available, there were only six serious incursions, three involving commercial aircraft.(3) That’s just 0.12 serious runway incursions per million operations or a 0.000012 percent margin of error!

[Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X), the Federal Aviation Administration’s primary runway incursion detection and alerting system, is now operational at 35 of the busiest U.S. airports. ASDE-X combines surface movement radar, multilateration and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) surveillance to provide air traffic controllers with extremely accurate, real-time position and identification information of aircraft and vehicles on the airport surface.(4)]

3.   Major Steps Have Been Taken to Reduce Controller Fatigue: Increased staffing this year now ensures that at least two controllers are on duty at all times. As a result of an 18-month-long collaborative effort between NATCA and the Federal Aviation Administration, a dozen science-based recommendations are being implemented to address controller fatigue. Among them: schedule adjustments allowing for more rest between shifts and initiatives to better identify sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders among controllers. In addition, the amount of fatigue-awareness and mitigation training for controllers is being tripled.

4.   The Aviation Community Is Collaborating to Mitigate Delays: Total airspace system delays decreased by 66 percent in November and December 2010 from 2009 (5) and system-wide delays decreased 39 percent in 2010 from 2009 during the 10 days of peak travel around Thanksgiving.(6) Advance planning is key to mitigating delays; to that end, NATCA members will participate in an upcoming forum, hosted by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, to find better ways to manage aircraft diversions. Pilots, aircraft dispatchers, airport operators and other members of the aviation community will meet to discuss all of the factors that influence diversion decisions and airport capacity in bad weather situations, including the status of navigation equipment, aircraft parking and gate availability, customs capacity, refueling and de-icing assets, jetway and air stair access and general ramp operations and security.

5.   The Aviation Safety Culture Is At Its Strongest: NATCA and the FAA are committed to improving the safety of the air traffic control system, so we have established a voluntary safety reporting program, the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP). ATSAP uses voluntary employee input to identify significant safety concerns and issues and determine appropriate remedial actions, which are then monitored for effectiveness. The program promotes collaboration between employee work groups and management to maintain a proactive approach regarding safety concerns and corrective action recommendations. ATSAP provides safety data that would otherwise never see the light of day without voluntary participation.(7)


1 Federal Aviation Administration, Payroll Data, July 2010, September 2011.

2 Federal Aviation Administration, Annual Runway Safety Report 2010, 5-7.

3 Ibid.

4 Saab Sensis Corporation, Saab Sensis Commissions 35th ASDE-X System, 3 October 2011.

5 Federal Aviation Administration, Administrator’s Fact Book, March 2011, 17.

6 Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Today, November 2009-2010.

7 Air Traffic Safety Action Program, www.atsapsafety.com, November 2011.

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled controllers, engineers and other safety-related professionals.

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