Former Official Says Agency Seems To Be "Going In The Wrong
Is the FAA encouraging planes to fly unacceptably close
together? A new method of gauging the risk of midair collisions has
drawn critics, who say the new system recently implemented by the
FAA could conceal the actual danger of airplanes flying in close
proximity to one another.
According to USA Today, under the old method an incident would
be classified as high risk, if two aircraft at the same altitude
came closer than five miles from one another -- the minimum
distance allowed by regulations -- and were flying head on, forcing
one or both pilots to take evasive action. The new system would
classify such an encounter as low risk, as long as the two planes
came no closer than four miles.
The FAA says the new classification will cut the number of
incidents considered high risk by half, simplifying the reporting
process. The most minor incidents wouldn't be counted at errors at
all -- which will serve to decrease overall error totals by about
Last year, the FAA counted 1,104 operational errors, of which
610 were deemed high-risk under the old system.
As you might expect, the plan has its critics. At the top of
that list is the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
"It's going to make them look like geniuses when really they've
done nothing," said NATCA vice-president Bryan Zilonis, who helped
draw up the old system. "You improve safety by reducing operational
errors, not recategorizing them."
Tony Ferrante, director of the FAA's Air Traffic Safety
Oversight Service, rebuts the new system is designed to encourage
controllers to bring planes in closer to the limit, without fear of
being cited for a proximity violation, to improve capacity at
congested airports. The new classification allows controllers to
direct planes within 4.5 miles of one another without a
Ken Mead, former inspector general for the Department of
Transportation, says he fears the FAA is encouraging less
restrictive separation standards, without properly reviewing the
"Do you want planes coming that close together or not? If you
don't, then you ought to say that," Mead says.
Former FAA official George Donohue agrees with Mead's
assessment. "It seems to me that they are going in the wrong
direction," he said.