"Report Questions Region's Air Traffic Safety
Feb 15, 2004 9:17 pm US/Eastern
HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP
) Funding cuts, understaffing and changes that would increase the number planes in the sky could compromise air traffic safety at New Jersey's airports, according to a published report.
Already, there were 19 incidents last year in which planes flew too close to one another in the skies above the New York metropolitan region, which includes Newark and Teterboro airports. There were 20 such incidents in 2001 and 24 in 2002, according to a report in The Record of Bergen County.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said the incidence of what it calls "loss of separation" is low when compared to the total number of aircraft operations handled by the regional monitoring centers -- about 2 million per year.
"When you put it in context to the total number of operations, statistically it represents a very small number," FAA Eastern Region spokesman Jim Peters told The Record.
Russ Halleran, an air traffic controller at Newark Airport, held a different viewpoint.
"The flying public is not aware," he said. "It is not a safe thing. We are not here blowing smoke. The FAA says everything is OK
. Everything is not OK
. We are kind of in a state of chaos at the moment."
Many air traffic control towers are understaffed and relying on overtime to do the job. At Newark, the tower is designed to have 40 controllers available but has only 34.
President George W. Bush has proposed cutting 13 percent from the Federal Aviation Administration's budget for upgrading air traffic control equipment. A new tower opened at Newark last year, but towers at La Guardia and Teterboro airports need to be rebuilt. Construction at La Guardia is scheduled to begin later this year, but could be affected if the reduced budget is approved.
The FAA is also proposing next year to tighten the spacing between in-air jets in order to get more planes in the sky and cut down on departure delays. Planes flying between 29,000 feet and 41,000 feet would need to have a vertical distance of 1,000 feet between them instead of the current 2,000 feet.
Pilots and controllers said the tighter spacing won't have a great effect at cruising altitude, but could make for more congestion on approaches and landings. FAA officials said they would hold traffic at the higher altitudes if there wasn't enough space below.
Halleran was skeptical that the new regulations could increase the number of planes landing in Newark, which currently can handle about 120 per hour.
"A lot of these airplanes at Newark are rolling down the runway and that next guy is right up your rear end," he said. "They are not going to be able to get threefold more airplanes into Newark. That's not going to happen."