Oct 8, 2007
On August 16, two planes at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) came within 37 feet of crashing into each other. An air traffic controller mistakenly cleared a WestJet Boeing 737 to taxi across a runway where a Northwest Airlines A320 was taking off. Luckily, the pilot of the Boeing 737 spotted the oncoming A320 on the runway that his plane was about to cross.
Thus a potential tragedy at LAX was narrowly averted – again. Over the last 6 years, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) admits that at LAX there have been 55 near misses, or, as they call them, “runway incursions.”
It’s obvious this was going to happen – just as it’s obvious there will sooner or later be a “near-miss” that doesn’t miss. There are many fewer experienced air traffic controllers handling ever more air traffic. Over the last three years, the number of certified air traffic controllers working at the LAX control tower has dropped from 46 to 33. An understaffed control tower means longer working hours and more duties for fatigued air-traffic controllers. This can only increase the likelihood for serious mistakes on the runway.
The staffing shortage and lack of safety at LAX is no different from what is going on at airports all around the country. As air traffic has increased year after year, the number of experienced controllers has dropped steadily. Currently there are only 11,467 experienced controllers left in the U.S., an 11-year low. In 2006, the FAA unilaterally imposed on controllers a new contract with major take-aways in both wages and benefits. Effectively, the FAA forced out 800 experienced controllers so it could fill air traffic towers with trainees making only $8.82 an hour.
It’s no different than the attacks government agencies and private companies are carrying out against employees all across the country. And, as everywhere, it can only lead to worsening health and safety for employees and the general public alike.