The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating five near mid-air collisions in the New York area during May. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating a close call involving two planes at San Francisco International airport last month. A departing plane was taking off on the same lane being used by an arriving plane.
Aviation expert Michael Boyd believes that if the FAA admits to five incidents, the number is probably as high as 15.
"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 told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.
Boyd, president of aviation research firm The Boyd Group, says the FAA is incompetent, Congress is complicit and air traffic 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."
Boyd, who began his career with American Airlines in 1971, says this problem is not new and there is no reason to think it will be solved anytime soon. The major problem, Boyd says, is the system is built without accountability and no one in management ever gets fired when something goes wrong.
"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."
For example, Boyd said in Lexington, Ky., last summer, an airplane used the wrong runway but there was only one controller in the tower when FAA standards say there should have been two.
"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."
But in addition to air traffic controller staffing, Boyd said there are many problems with the system and bad equipment. Last week, he noted, the entire East Coast system went down; last month, the West Coast system failed. Despite all this, Boyd said he wouldn't necessarily stay off of planes.
"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."