Air Safety ‘Diminishing,’ Report Finds : Stress, Fatigue, Staffing Shortage, Inexperienced Controllers Cited

Associated Press

A congressional panel investigating the nation’s air traffic control system warned Tuesday of a “diminishing margin of safety” for air travelers caused by many of the same problems that led to the 1981 strike by air traffic controllers.

“Stress, fatigue, staffing shortages, increasing traffic, lack of supervision and an unseasoned work force have all impacted the margin of safety,” said the report by the House Public Works and Transportation subcommittee on investigations and oversight.

The report concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration has maintained “an autocratic management style” and has made “little tangible progress” in areas of improved management and human relations during the last four years.

No FAA Comment

FAA spokesman Dennis Feldman said the agency would have no immediate comment on the report.

It was the third scathing criticism of the FAA in less than a month and came at a time when there is increased pressure on the agency because of a rash of airline crashes both in the United States and abroad. The causes of the crashes have varied and none has been linked to air traffic control problems.


Last month, another congressional study said investigators have found disturbing gaps in the FAA’s airline inspection program, saying that some air carriers receive virtually no inspections to determine whether they follow federal safety standards.

FAA Called Slow

A week later, an internal Transportation Department report found that the FAA has been slow in devising safety regulations and that it enforces them inconsistently. The report also criticized the agency’s often decentralized decision-making at regional offices around the country, instead of in Washington.

The report released Tuesday concentrated on the air traffic control system.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the investigations subcommittee, raised concern about the ability of the FAA to rebuild the air traffic control system after the 1981 strike that resulted in the firing of 11,400 controllers.

He said thousands of controllers who stayed on the job during the strike and have carried the brunt of the rebuilding program now are considering retirement because the FAA has not addressed the problems that led to the strike.

‘System Is the Problem’

“Instead of addressing fundamental problems, the FAA has just replaced people, believing people to be the problem,” Oberstar said. “The system is the problem.”

Citing what it called “an autocratic management style” within the FAA, the subcommittee report said: “Little tangible progress has been made in the area of management and human relations since the 1981 strike.

“The management problems created by the FAA continue to exist and only the FAA can rectify them--with major surgery. The studies to identify the stress and management problems have been conducted; the problems are real and are major.

“The FAA should stop waltzing around its problems, stop sponsoring additional studies that waste tax dollars and start implementing the recommendations.”