Sharp Increase In Reported Near Misses

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The FAA says that a sharp increase from 2011 to 2012 in the number of reported incidents involving failure to maintain proper separation of aircraft in flight is likely due to changes in how such incidents are reported and not due to increased risk to aircraft, but not all agencies agree. The year-over-year increase ran the numbers up from 1,895 to 4,394 for consecutive one-year periods ending on Sept. 30, 2012. The FAA's old method of acquiring data relied on reports filed by humans; the new system also relies on humans ... without fear of punishment ... and includes automated reporting at some facilities. While the reported figures are up, the FAA notes that high-risk incidents as a percentage of total incidents declined. The FAA hopes that new technology may also help improve safety. But a recent GAO report shows not all entities are convinced that all the increases in near-miss incidents can be entirely attributed to changes in reporting.

Both the GAO and the Transportation Department inspector general found that error rates also increased at certain centers that used computerized reporting, meaning that the increase was due to other factors. And the use of automated reporting isn't the only factor. The FAA also changed some of the definitions that identify which incidents are reported. And the FAA has added a new ranking system for incidents, which now includes a "high risk" category. The introduction of new terminology and reporting system means it may take some time before any new patterns become clear. For now, reported incidents on the ground and in the air increased last year and facilities guiding high-altitude flights showed a 39-percent increase, according to an IG report. NATCA released a statement Thursday that says in part, "We are proud of the collaborative efforts we have undertaken with the FAA to reduce safety incidents and increase reporting opportunities for controllers and FAA employees."