New FAA Midair Incident Reporting Standards Implemented

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According to the FAA, 4.5 miles is the new five miles. USA Today reported last week the agency has adopted new reporting standards for air traffic separation errors that, among other things, give controllers a 10-percent margin for error in maintaining the once-sacrosanct five-mile spacing. The newspaper paraphrases Tony Ferrante, director of the FAA's Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service, as saying the half-mile fudge factor is designed to encourage controllers to tighten up traffic at busy airports without risking being cited for busting the five-mile barrier. The new standards also, at the stroke of a pen, dramatically reduce the incident rate by reclassifying some separation errors, adopting new standards for others and eliminating 25 percent of those that are now reportable. The FAA says the new system takes a more rational and realistic approach to the whole error-reporting system, but critics say it will hide the truth about the state of the increasingly crowded airspace. Bryan Zilonis, a regional vice president with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, helped design the old system and he’s upset with its being changed. "It's going to make them look like geniuses when really they've done nothing," he told USA Today. "You improve safety by reducing operational errors, not recategorizing them." Ken Mead, the former DOT Inspector General, said the FAA shouldn’t fuzz the rules when it comes to separation of aircraft. "Do you want planes coming that close together or not? If you don't, then you ought to say that," Mead said.