Audit: San Diego air traffic errors up

Inspector General calls mistakes 'dramatic'

SAN DIEGO - A federal audit outlines the high number of errors made by air traffic controllers across the country, including in San Diego.

In a copy of the audit obtained by 10News, the Inspector General called the mistakes dramatic and a major public safety concern. The errors cited took place at 60 area airports, including at Lindbergh Field.

Click here to view the federal audit

According to the audit, mistakes such as allowing planes to fly too close together increased all over the U.S.

At the top of the list was Southern California TRACON, based in Kearny Mesa, with a 473 percent operational error increase from 2009 to 2010.

Some travelers at Lindbergh Field seemed oblivious when 10News told them about the statistics.

"I didn't realize there was a problem," one traveler said.

To some industry insiders like aviation expert Glen Winn, it was no surprise.

"We should be concerned; this needs to be fixed," Winn said.

Winn told 10News Southern California TRACON -- which manages air traffic in San Diego -- is the nation's busiest air traffic center.

"We have a lot of military aircraft, executive jets, and you add in big commercial planes …," said Winn.

However, the audit's numbers may be a bit deceiving. The FAA reclassified 147 aircraft landings guided by TRACON as errors -- landings that were previously exempt due to a waiver that allowed planes to land closer. In 2010, that waiver was revoked, accounting for 23 percent of the increase.

Ron Geyer, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, issued the following statement regarding the federal audit:

"Safety is air traffic controllers' top priority. The safety reporting systems, implemented and operated in collaboration with the FAA, pilots, airlines and other stakeholders, are working well and helping to keep our nation's aviation system the safest in the world. They are also helping us to better understand where and how improvements can be made. Unfortunately, sequestration may soon put that progress at risk. These budget cuts may stymie the efforts of air traffic controllers and the FAA to move safety reporting systems forward with updated technologies and procedures. We urge all air travelers to contact Congress and ask them to end sequestration in order to prevent these negative impacts on our aviation system and the economic activity it supports."

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