Sen. Hutchison: System Needs to Catch Weaknesses in Air Traffic Control to Prevent Safety Lapses

Calls for Congressional Passage of FAA Reauthorization

May 24, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During an Aviation Subcommittee hearing today on air traffic control safety, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, reiterated the need for Congress to approve a long-term FAA reauthorization bill. Sen. Hutchison also raised concerns about the recent sleeping lapses and increase in operational errors among the air traffic controller workforce. Below is an excerpt of Sen. Hutchison’s opening statement:

“I want to welcome you as the Chairman, Maria Cantwell, and John Thune as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee and look forward to working with you, especially on FAA Reauthorization, which we are extending for the nineteenth time. I hope that we can come together in the next month and pass a bill that all of us worked very hard to get across the floor of the Senate.

“I do think that we have had such a safe aviation safety performance, and, in general, the air traffic controllers have done a superb job.  We pass 790 million people per year through our system and there are 29,000 to 30,000 safe flights every day.  That is a mark in our favor.

“However, of course, in the last five months we have had alarming lapses. I think the air traffic control incidents and near-misses have given reason for us to have a hearing, and I think that we have to have a system in place that catches any kind of weakness in the system and takes action to remedy it.

“FAA Administrator Babbitt, you are going to be putting 11,000 new controllers in place by the year 2020. So I hope that we will hear that you are going to be looking at fatigue factors, training, scheduling, and professionalism as we are going through this transition,” said Sen. Hutchison.