AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) issued a press release Wednesday evening stating that chronic staffing shortages within the National Airspace Systems (NAS) are “not sustainable” and possibly to blame for near miss events.
“Currently, there are 1,200 fewer fully certified controllers than there were 10 years ago,” the NATCA statement reads, “The effect of that mandatory overtime has been very difficult to the controller workforce on a personal level, denying them time with their families that other Americans take for granted and increasing stress and fatigue in a profession that is already one of the most stressful.”
The statement comes after reporting by The New York Times about a February near miss at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
A “near miss event,” according to a Merriam-Webster post, refers to proximity of two objects and not the probability of collision; two near objects come close but do not hit each other. The FAA uses “near midair collision” to describe the same event, but using the other meaning of “near.”
For the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), such an event occurs when an aircraft has the “possibility of collision… as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft” or if a pilot or flight crewmember reports a collision hazard existed.
The NATCA took aim at the FAA in its statement, stating that the organization worked with the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization to “develop operationally-based Certified Professional Controller staffing targets for every air traffic control facility.”
“Those targets were verified and validated by the MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development, only to have the FAA choose to not implement those targets as the basis for its annual Controller Workforce Plan. Instead, the FAA continued to publish to Congress the failed finance-based staffing plan that has led us to this point over the last decade,” the NATCA said.
The FAA also sent a statement to KXAN on Wednesday.
“One close call is one too many. The FAA and the aviation community are pursuing a goal of zero serious close calls,” the statement reads. “Multiple layers of safety protect the traveling public, including: Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems on commercial aircraft, surface safety technology at the country’s biggest airports, and robust procedures. Air traffic controllers and pilots also play critical roles.”
Data provided by the FAA claims that 60% of runway incursions (near misses at a runway) in 2023 were caused by pilot deviations, 20% were operational incidents and the remainder were due to vehicle/pedestrian deviations.