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Feds concerned about air traffic controller errors at O'Hare Airport in Chicago

Bryan Alaspa's picture

Federal investigators have announced that they are coming to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, one of the busiest in the world, over concerns of increasing air traffic controller errors.

O’Hare International Airport has been expanding recently, adding runways and control towers. This has caused an increase in hiring of new controllers, resulting in a dearth of new controllers in the towers. Federal aviation officials have now stated that they will personally visit the busy airport to find out why air traffic controller errors appear to be on the rise.

Chicago news media are reporting that the FAA has released reports which show that errors on the side of the air traffic controllers is on the rise at O’Hare. Most of them appear to be happening when veteran controllers are training the new controllers. In most cases, the training of controllers has been accelerated in order to get newer controllers on duty faster as the airport increases in size and air traffic.

According to the report, there were 17 reported errors over the course of one year. Prior to that there were only six reported errors.

The airport has stated that, at no time, were any passengers in any danger. However, the failures seem to come from new controllers failing to maintain the proper distance between airplanes as they land and take off. In one case, an airplane was placed too close to another plane as it was landing and ended up in another plane’s wake. The result was increased turbulence.

Of the 17 errors reported, two of them were classified as serious. At least five additional errors occurred while veteran controllers were providing trainees on-the-job training.

The air traffic control towers at O’Hare have become so busy with new trainees that many veteran air traffic controllers spend almost their entire day training new controllers. The report states that those veteran controllers are still the ones responsible for those planes. However, there is concern that the skills of some of those veteran controllers is slipping as they spend day after day in a supervisory and training role rather than at the controls themselves.

On Wednesday, representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation were going to appear in person at the control towers at O’Hare. Thee is concern that the stress of training, plus keeping track of all of the planes may be too much even for the veteran controllers. Some veteran controllers also state that they want the younger controllers to be able to make small mistakes and learn to correct them.

The FAA has also reported that, in general, air traffic controller errors are up all over the country. Chicago’s second airport, Midway, had only two air traffic controller errors reported during the same time period as the one at O’Hare that is raising concerns.

O'Hare Image Source: Wikipedia

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