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Air Traffic Control Safety Oversight

On May 24, 2011, the Department of Transportation Inspector General testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security about Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight and management of air traffic operations.  The Inspector General identified four areas where FAA faces particular challenges:  (1) identifying and addressing the causes of operational errors, (2) mitigating controller fatigue risks, (3) adequately staffing the controller workforce, and (4) training new controllers.  FAA statistics show a recent significant increase in operational errors by controllers; however, the causes of this reported increase remain unclear.  FAA has also not yet fully implemented recommendations to identify potential factors that may contribute to controller fatigue and mitigate that risk.  In addition, while FAA is working to hire and train nearly 11,000 new controllers, expected improvements to controller training have not been realized.  Further, FAA’s placement process does not adequately consider new controllers’ aptitude, and critical facilities have a high percentage of controllers in training.