GAO Report: Runways Not Safe Enough

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Despite FAA efforts to improve safety, the rate of runway incursions has not decreased in the last five years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office. The report also notes that air traffic controller fatigue continues to be a matter of concern. As of May 2007, at least 20 percent of the controllers at 25 facilities, including towers at some of the country's busiest airports, were regularly working six-day weeks. The FAA's Office of Runway Safety has not carried out its leadership role in recent years, the report says, and technology upgrades that could enhance safety are behind schedule. The GAO concludes that the FAA needs a new national runway safety plan, better data about runway overruns and ramp accidents, and a plan to address controller overtime and fatigue issues. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association was quick to respond. "The facts are crystal clear: Both the NTSB and the GAO are now on record saying controller fatigue affects runway safety," said NATCA President Patrick Forrey in a statement on Wednesday. "There is nowhere else the FAA can run and hide from this staffing crisis and deny its existence."

Another promise or strategic plan is not needed, Forrey said. "The time to act is now, not after a catastrophe. The agency needs to sit down and settle the labor problems with its unions, stop the bleeding of experienced controllers, and find ways to entice the best and brightest to stay on the job and fix these safety problems with a fully staffed and rested workforce."