FAA's Comments on Near Miss In Chicago Last week

After further investigation of the near miss resulting from Air Traffic Control error over Indiana on Tuesday, between a Midwest Airlines Regional Jet and a United Express aircraft, it appears the FAA are playing the incident down. John Diedrich reports the FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory, stated "We're not calling it a near miss". Although Elizabeth also admitted in the interview that "this event definitely violated our separation standards".

The FAA confirms reports that the two aircraft came as close as 1.3 miles horizontally, and 600 feet vertically with the aircraft's Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) resolving the conflict. The horizontal proximity being almost one fifth of the minimum standard of 5 miles and almost half the vertical standard of 1000 feet.

The fact that the Federal Aviation Administration would make such a comment is not so surprising. They display the same attitude when it comes to their staffing crisis. As reported in my previous post, the FAA believe "staffing levels were adequate" even though Air Traffic Controllers complain of fatigue and over work. A member of the Chicago Controllers Association believes the FAA was not prepared for the high number of retirements of controllers. Three controllers a day retire nationally and three a month locally which has resulted in the shortage.

The "near miss" over Indiana is unfortunately not an isolated case, with three incidents since October 1 in the Chicago facility. Air Traffic controllers in the Chicago region and elsewhere have said "they were weary and more error-prone after having to work repeated six day weeks". Joseph Belinno from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the chances are "pretty good" that controller error will increase at busy times. "Any time you have people on six day work weeks it always increases".