Controller Errors Increased 51 Percent in 2010

But that headline could be deceiving. Though it's true that air traffic controllers' reported errors increased by more than half last year, a new reporting policy could be a large part of the reason. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has encouraged a policy of "no-fault" self-reporting of errors by controllers, the better to gather more data on weaknesses within the system. But that information came only in the final paragraph of a news story published New Year's Eve by the Washington Post.

Still, some of the errors are frightening, including one that directed two airliners within 50 feet of each other in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC — aka "clouds"). And the FAA is calling for software upgrades on Traffic and Collision Alert Systems (TCAS), after reports of dozens of alerts. The agency is concerned that current TCAS software is not up to the task of monitoring all traffic, and advisories from the units could direct pilots to divert into harm's way. The newspaper also reported that Babbitt is concerned that older controllers are teaching younger controllers invalid "short cuts" while conducting on-the-job training.