A recent New York Times report has exposed alarming vulnerabilities within the nation’s aviation safety system, raising fears of an imminent and potentially deadly crash.
The report sheds light on a combination of aging infrastructure, overworked air traffic controllers, and disturbing incidents compromising the safety of air travelers.
President Emeritus of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Paul Rinaldi, voiced concerns over the outdated equipment used in air traffic control.
‘When we look at air traffic control equipment, we’re using aging equipment, paper strips. We don’t have ground radars at most of our facilities,” he expressed.
The New York Times investigation, utilizing open-records requests, uncovered instances of controllers admitting to being under the influence of alcohol or marijuana, facing violence on the job, and, in some cases, sleeping during shifts.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association reported to CNN that controllers are both overworked and understaffed.
“The shortage is a big problem and if you look at how long it takes to get a certified air traffic controller from the academy to certified in the facility could take two to three years,” explained Rinaldi.
Addressing the concerns, Michael Whitaker, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), acknowledged the need for action.
“My initial focus has been on how to make these numbers go up quickly without lowering standards,” he said.
The National Airspace System safety review team points out that the current federal hiring plan, when factoring in retirements and other attrition, brings on fewer than 200 new controllers by 2032.
The FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative is presented as a potential solution, aiming to expedite the process of getting new controllers certified by collaborating with select colleges and universities.
“Get new people into the facilities and get them certified,” said Rinaldi. “It’s going to take two to three years, but we’ll be caught up and we’ll start to actually see more than six controllers a year increase.”
Despite these challenges, the FAA assures the public that it addresses employee problems on a case-by-case basis.
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