In response to reports that air traffic control is understaffed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has called for a briefing by the controllers on such reports.
Rosendahl introduced a City Council motion December 14th requesting that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) brief the council’s Trade, Commerce, and Tourism Committee on the controllers’ contention that a staffing shortage has led to a spike in runway incursions at the airport.
The councilman’s motion came days after the federal government issued a report on runway safety nationwide, saying that LAX had more incursions than any other U.S. airport between 2001 and 2006. The report, from the Government Accountability Office, indicated staffing at the LAX control tower was a factor.
“Public safety is my top priority,” Rosendahl said. “I want to prevent the type of human error that has led to many of the incursions at LAX.
“I am hopeful that this briefing will shed more light on that issue.”
The Government Accountability Office report, which was released to Congress on Aviation Runway and Ramp Safety, claimed that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed nationwide to decrease the rate of runway incursions, despite efforts in the last five years to improve runway safety at airports by deploying new safety technologies, modifying airport layout, markings, signing and lighting, and providing training for pilots and air traffic controllers.
FAA officials have denied the claims of a connection between air traffic controller staffing and runway incursions at LAX, saying that the majority of incursions at the airport have been due to pilot error and not controller error.
The report noted that air traffic controller fatigue, which may result from regularly working overtime, continues to be a serious aviation safety concern.
The Air Traffic Controllers Association said the report underscored the direct link between safety and air controller fatigue.
“It is very clear that air traffic controllers are overworked and understaffed,” Rosendahl said. “Air traffic controller fatigue jeopardizes the safety of our traveling public.”
A recent Air Traffic Controllers Association study of runway safety at LAX from 2000 to 2007 found that the LAX control tower was short-staffed in the years 2000, 2001 and 2007. During those years, runway incursions almost doubled from an average of 13.6 runway incursions per year for fully-staffed years to 22.3 runway incursions per year for short-staffed years, according to the association.
That study further concluded that the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, the city agency that operates LAX) proposal to build a centerline taxiway on the north airfield would prevent only one of those incursions each year.
Rosendahl’s concerns were shared by local Congresswoman Jane Harman, who recently sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration addressing air traffic controller fatigue at LAX.
The councilman’s motion was expected to be heard by the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee later this month.