The FAA’s ATSAP program a voluntary, non-punitive system
through which controllers can report safety incidents
has the potential to enhance safety, but system
improvements are needed before the Agency can realize
expected benefits. Other priorities that the FAA must
continue to address are controller fatigue, runway
incursions, and wildlife hazards. Two significant
safety-related challenges also remain: (1) FAA’s
progress in developing a safety data analysis system to
proactively identify risk, and (2) introducing Unmanned
Aircraft Systems (UAS) into U.S. airspace.
FAA statistics indicate that reported operational errors
when required separation is lost due to a controller
error rose by 53 percent between fiscal years 2009 and
2010. While total operational errors remained at these
levels in 2010 and 2011, the most serious reported
errors, those in which a collision was barely avoided,
continued to increase, from 37 in fiscal year 2009, to
43 in fiscal year 2010, and 55 in fiscal year 2011.
Further, since the beginning of fiscal year 2012, both
the total and most serious number of reported
operational errors appears to have increased.
However, the reason these increases occurred is unknown.
According to the FAA, the increases are the result, in
part, of its increased use of data in the Traffic
Analysis and Review Program (TARP) an automated system
for detecting loss of separation incidents at terminal
In January 2012, the FAA issued
new policies and procedures for collecting,
investigating, and reporting all separation losses.
However, their effectiveness is limited by incomplete
data and the lack of an accurate baseline on the number
of separation losses.
At the time of our ATSAP review last year,
operational errors at the high altitude en route
centers—which have had an automated system for
detecting loss of separation incidents in place for
years—have also increased from 353 in fiscal year
2009 to 489 in fiscal year 2010, suggesting that the
increase in reported errors during this period was
linked in part to a rise in actual errors.