Audit Reports

February 27, 2013

FAA’s Efforts To Track and Mitigate Air Traffic Losses of Separation Are Limited by Data Collection and Implementation Challenges

Requested by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and its Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Project ID: AV-2013-046


On February 27, 2013, we issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to identify and mitigate risks of air traffic losses of separation—i.e., when two aircraft fly closer together than safety standards permit, due to an air traffic controller operational error, a pilot’s deviation,  or other issue. Between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the number of reported operational errors by controllers increased by more than 50 percent. According to FAA, this increase was mostly due to enhanced reporting through new voluntary and automated reporting programs. However, we found that the increase was linked, in part, to a rise in actual errors, as well as other contributing factors. In addition, we found that FAA lacks an accurate baseline of the actual total number of separation losses that occur. Although FAA has recently instituted new policies and procedures for improving the collection, investigation, and reporting of separation losses, we found that the effectiveness of these procedures is limited by incomplete data and implementation challenges. Finally, FAA has recently developed new corrective action plans to mitigate high-risk separation loss events. However, it is too early to determine the effectiveness of these plans. In addition, the Agency’s corrective action plans do not include all safety risks identified by FAA and will not address all losses of separation that air traffic facility officials consider to be high risk.

FAA concurred with four and partially concurred with two of our six recommendations to improve the Agency’s policies and processes for identifying and mitigating separation losses. We are requesting that FAA provide additional information or reconsider its response for two recommendations.