To the Editor:

The Argonaut’s recent story [January 8th] about air traffic controller staffing and aviation safety quoted a range of people, but, for some reason, comment was not sought from the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA]. As a result, the story painted an inaccurate picture of the staffing and safety situation in Southern California.

All of our Southern California air traffic control facilities, including the LAX control tower, are staffed within their authorized ranges. Our air traffic controllers — both fully certified and those who are in training — are doing a terrific job every day to maintain the safety and efficiency of the region’s airspace.

At the same time, the FAA is working hard to bring new controllers on board at LAX and other facilities to replace those who will be retiring in the coming years. The FAA is constantly looking at ways to streamline the hiring and training of new controllers, and welcomes any efforts that could help speed up that process.

Our primary concern is always safety, and LAX today has a safety record that is unprecedented in recent memory. The number of runway incursions there plummeted to just three in Fiscal Year 2008, compared to eight in each federal fiscal year from 2005 to 2007. There have been no incursions at LAX during the first three-and-a-half months of Fiscal Year 2009. (Incursion numbers also are down using calendar year comparisons.)

The biggest reason for the drop in LAX runway incursions was the construction of a new center taxiway on the airport’s south airfield. This taxiway eliminated the direct route that arriving aircraft previously had toward the inner runway, which was the primary cause of serious runway incidents on the south airfield.

Soon, LAX will have an additional layer of airfield safety called Runway Status Lights, which are essentially stop lights for pilots. Runway Status Lights turn red when it’s unsafe to enter a runway or to take off. Tests in San Diego and Dallas-Fort Worth proved that the system works. We expect to begin testing Runway Status Lights at LAX in March.

Certain groups perpetuate a myth that there is a link between controller staffing and runway incursions. In fact, there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever. During the past decade, there have been years in which we have had high numbers of controllers at LAX and high numbers of runway incidents, and years when we have had fewer controllers and low numbers of runway incidents.

The best way to prevent runway incursions is to have properly configured airfields — as the experience on the south LAX airfield shows.

Ian Gregor

Communications Manager

FAA Western-Pacific Region