NATCA President Patrick Forrey Testimony Concerning Runway Safety - ATC - Aviation Information

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NATCA President Patrick Forrey Testimony Concerning Runway Safety

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is the exclusive representative of over 14,000 air traffic controllers serving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Defense and private sector. In addition, NATCA represents approximately 1,200 FAA engineers, 600 traffic management coordinators, 500 aircraft certification professionals, agency operational support staff, regional personnel from FAA's logistics, budget, finance and computer specialist divisions, and agency occupational health specialists, nurses and medical program specialists. NATCA's mission is to preserve, promote and improve the safety of air travel within the United States, and to serve as an advocate for air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals. NATCA has a long history of supporting new aviation technology, modernizing and enhancing our nation's air traffic control system, and working to ensure that we are prepared to meet the growing demand for aviation services.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A host of independent federal watchdogs have recently warned that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should be concerned with issues impacting aviation safety.

* The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently added runway incursions and incidents caused by air traffic controller fatigue to their 2008 List of Most Wanted Aviation Improvements.


* In November of 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that warned of "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision occurring in the United States."

* The Department of Transportation's Inspector General, on the heels of near-collisions on runways at O'Hare, launched an investigation into the role that workplace conditions played at FAA facilities in Illinois.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) offers the following recommendations specific to the issue of runway safety.

1. Local Airport Committees for Runway Incursion Prevention


* It is imperative that each airport has the opportunity to employ a set of solutions that address specific local issues. Therefore, NATCA recommends that we establish Runway Incursion Prevention Committees for each airport throughout the country that would be run and structured on the level of the individual airport. These groups would be composed of representatives from the local stakeholders, including Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, Airport Management, and Airport Vehicle Drivers as well as a national representative from the FAA.

2. Proper Staffing of Air Traffic Control Towers

* It is also important that we address at the national level those system-wide problems which occur most frequently and whose effects are most detrimental to runway safety. First among these system-wide problems is the under staffing of Air Traffic Control Towers. The first step to relieving the staffing shortage and alleviating controller fatigue is to stem the flow of Air Traffic Controllers out of the FAA workforce. Therefore, NATCA recommends to this committee that the FAA be instructed to return to the bargaining table to pick up where we left off when we met with Chairmen Oberstar and Costello, and bargain in good faith with NATCA to produce a ratifiable agreement for the Air Traffic Controllers. This gesture of good faith, combined with the removal of some of the more heinous provisions of the imposed work rules, will make staying in the FAA workforce more attractive to both newly hired Controllers and those eligible for retirement, slowing the rate of attrition.

3. Technology and Modernization

* Collaboration:

When NATCA and the FAA worked collaboratively on modernization projects through the Liaison Program, they were able to successfully identify the technological needs of the Air Traffic system and develop and deploy the technology to meet those needs. Unfortunately this collaborative program with the controllers was disbanded in 2003 by the FAA.

* ASDE-X:

NATCA recommends that surface radar, whether ASDE-X or a low-cost surface surveillance system, be installed at all airports throughout the country with mid to high traffic density. Air Traffic Controllers should be given the opportunity to provide feedback and guidance on the local level during the implementation and deployment of the technology.

* Additional Technologies:

NATCA recommends that each of the following technologies: Runway Status Lights, Data Link Systems, and Taxiway monitoring systems be tested and adapted for use in the U.S. airport environment. Testing should be done swiftly, efficiently and cooperatively, and once completed, the technologies should be implemented at all major airports.

4. Runway Crossing

* End Around Taxiways:

Runway incursions commonly occur when the layout of taxiways force aircraft to cross a runway in route to a second runway or the gate. Therefore it is NATCA's final recommendation to this committee that End-Around Taxiways be constructed and utilized at all airports where such construction is possible.

Conclusion:

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association believes each of these recommendations should be acted on by the Agency to ensure that aviation safety is not only preserved, but improved upon. NATCA offers its expertise and resources to aid the Agency in their implementation of these recommendations on inclusion of frontline employee's expertise, implementation of specific technologies, and the minimizing of runway crossings. NATCA's warning on controller staffing has been consistent and clear: When there are fewer, more tired eyes watching more planes, safety suffers. The Agency must properly staff towers and correct the unjust imposed work and pay rules that have aggravated an already existing staffing problem.

Our hope is that the FAA will change course and be interested in the solutions as well as the participation of the men and women that make our National Airspace System the safest and most efficient in the world.

[1] All staffing information is based on data supplied by the FAA to NATCA in accordance with provisions of the Imposed Work Rules. Data is current as of January 5, 2008.
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