Controller Error And NATCA's Public Relations Video

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On May 11, the National Air Traffic Controllers national office uploaded a video to YouTube titled "I Am A Professional" in support of the work done by controllers each day, following national media coverage of controllers sleeping on the job. The video begins with a man identified by on-screen text as "Steve - Miami 20 Years Experience" saying, "You don't know my name and you don't know my face, but you recognize the work I do each day." The video includes a collection of controllers and text (i.e., "More than 70,000 flights take off and land safely every day") that convey the importance of the work, the sheer numbers involved and the professional commitment of controllers. The video may be publicly aired elsewhere, according to NATCA. Also this week, the Inspector General told a Senate subcommittee that controller errors rose 53 percent last year. There may, however, be a simple and arguably positive explanation for that.

The FAA has something called the Traffic Analysis and Review Program (TARP), which has been in accelerated deployment since 2008, when an FAA whistle blower helped shed light on mistakes made and covered up at the Fort Worth TRACON. In that case, controller mistakes were sometimes being classified as pilot error. The TARP system involves software that automatically detects things like aircraft separation violations at TRACON facilities. The idea is to encourage controllers to self-report errors -- with guaranteed immunity through the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) program -- so that the FAA can collect more information on errors and create a better footing to address causal factors. As a result of TARP and ATSAP, the FAA says it is collecting errors that have previously gone unreported and that accounts for most of the increase in reported errors. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has told lawmakers, "We may be somewhat being penalized by the fact that we do have better electronic ways of reporting." And the Inspector General concedes that TARP "has fleshed out more operational errors." However, he has also announced a new audit to more closely examine the increase and says he does not expect to find one single underlying cause.