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Wed, Jun 13, 2007

Aviation Consultant Slams FAA, Congress For Inaction On ATC Issues

Says Professionals Should Run Agency, Not Political Appointees

Tell us how you REALLY feel, Mike. On a morning news program, Michael Boyd -- president of the Boyd Group, an aviation research, forecasting and consulting firm -- recently voiced his concerns about the Federal Aviation Administration, and the current state of air traffic control.

"Well, the problem is, our air traffic control system is years behind in terms of technology and eons behind in terms of senior management," he said on CBS's The Early Show. Boyd also called the FAA incompetent, Congress complicit and said controllers are over-stretched and understaffed.

"The FAA has no fire under them," he said. "The Congress does not put pressure on the FAA. The administrator comes in, says we're working on it, walks out and the hearing's over. It's so outrageous."

The FAA is currently investigating a slew of recent incidents -- most notably, five near-misses in the New York area just last month, as reported by ANN. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating why an aircraft was allowed to depart off on the same runway that had been assigned to an inbound flight in San Francisco.

Boyd believes if the FAA is admitting to five incidents, then the actual number is probably closer to 15.

He says the problem is not a new one and he doesn't believe it's going to be solved any time soon. The air traffic control system was designed without accountability -- if something screws up, you can bet no one in management will get fired, said the 36-year aviation veteran, who started his career with American Airlines in 1971.

"It's a controller -- you know, losing his health, working in front of a screen, that takes all the heat," he said. "They're understaffed and under-managed."

There are several examples of a single controller forced to man a tower when FAA standards clearly say there should have been two, Boyd said. As ANN reported, this was the case last year at Bluegrass Airport in Kentucky. A single controller was performing approach control and ground duties simultaneously and Comair Flight 5191 took off from the wrong runway, crashed and killed 49 of 50 people on board.

On top of inadequate controller staffing, there are way too many problems with an antiquated system being run with bad equipment. Just last week, he noted, the entire East Coast system went down. Last month, it was the West Coast.

If things are so bad, has Boyd sworn off flying?

"I'm not scared to fly, but we could be a whole lot safer than we are now and the skies really aren't crowded," he said. "What's crowded is the FAA -- not managing it properly."

"They don't hold themselves to their own standards," he said. "We've got to get people at the top of the FAA who are professionals, not political appointees. That's what we're dealing with."

FMI: www.aviationplanning.com, www.faa.gov

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