Aviation experts who reviewed the FAA’s safety record say the agency needs more personnel, better equipment, and cutting-edge technology to deal with an uptick in the most dangerous near-misses between planes.
On Wednesday, the organization warned that the margin of safety in the country’s airspace would diminish and worsen if nothing were done.
Experts outside the FAA concluded that a lack of constant financing was the root of many agency problems. They published a 52-page study — while Congress scrambled to prevent a partial government shutdown — and suggested that the FAA should be shielded from yearly funding struggles in Washington.
Former FAA administrator Michael Huerta oversaw the six-person panel, including the most recent outgoing National Transportation Safety Board chairman.
Huerta informed the press that the FAA problems have been building up for a long time. “Many of these problems cannot be solved quickly and easily.”
The agency will study the panel’s proposals to “help us pursue our objective of zero severe close misses,” as new FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker put it.
The 19 months that the FAA went without a leader authorized by the Senate ended with Whitaker’s confirmation last month.
According to the research, there are around 1,000 fewer fully trained controllers at the FAA now than eleven years ago. The study determined that the agency’s training facility in Oklahoma City is a “bottleneck” and that hiring dropped by roughly half during the outbreak.
The experts also noted that “the FAA has made minimal efforts to maintain appropriate staffing of air traffic controllers at major air traffic control sites.” Due to severe shortages at several critical facilities in New York and Florida, the FAA has been putting pressure on airlines to curtail flights in the New York City region this summer and fall.
The panel added that controllers are also working more overtime, which “introduces danger” into the nation’s airspace and leads to greater absenteeism, decreased productivity, and weariness. The group concluded supervisors often make up for a lack of supervision by performing other duties.
In January, a countrywide technological breakdown was blamed on the FAA’s antiquated systems.
Even without factoring losses in efficiency from antiquated technologies, the “age and condition of FAA facilities and equipment are escalating system risk to unsustainable levels,” the panel found.