FAA Sees Surge in Reports of Air-Traffic Errors

New numbers released by the Federal Aviation Administration show reports of air-traffic errors have nearly doubled in three years.

The number of reported incidents in 2007 was 1040, and that number rose to 1887 in 2010, an 81 percent increase.

But there may be an even greater concern: Out of the reported incidents, those most likely to cause an accident or collision were also up, from 34 in 2007 to 43 last year for a 26 percent increase. Those incidents are called operational errors and usually mean aircraft coming too close together.

Diane Spitaliere, manager of media relations for the FAA, told Fox News that passengers should not be alarmed by the increase in errors, because part of the increase was due to better reporting methods implemented in 2008. The new method protects controllers from punishment for errors they voluntarily report. Since the non-punitive culture of error-reporting went into effect, the FAA says it has receiving about 250 reports a week.

“The FAA’s mission is to keep air travelers safe," Spitaliere said. "Over the past several years, the FAA has transitioned to a non-punitive error-reporting system at its air traffic facilities. This cultural change in safety reporting has produced a wealth of information to help the FAA identify potential risks in the system and take swift action to address them.

"The FAA takes all errors seriously but we believe increased reporting will result in an even safer aviation system.”

The chairman of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Steven Hansen, apparently agrees. He has said that if authorities don't know about the problems, they don’t know what to fix.

Yet the new numbers have raised some concern in Washington. The chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., is considering holding a less-formal hearing known as a roundtable on the issue, and his spokesman tells Fox News that he is actively in touch with the FAA on the subject.