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FAA Manager Criticizes New Safety Program

WASHINGTON (AP) - A new, voluntary error-reporting system for air traffic controllers is hindering the ability of Federal Aviation Administration managers to correct controllers' mistakes, an official for a professional society said Wednesday.

David Conley, president of the FAA Managers Association, told the House transportation committee in prepared testimony that the agency's Air Traffic Safety Action Program is having unintended consequences.

The program is designed to encourage controllers to voluntarily identify their mistakes - which usually involves spacing planes too close together - without risk of punishment. The intention is to gather the most complete data possible to identify trends and correct circumstances that may be causing the errors. It's modeled after a similar, successful reporting system for pilots.

But Conley said the system is delaying managers from correcting problems because they must wait for labor-management committees to review the reported error and decide what action, if any, should be taken.

"In some instances managers find their hands tied with process constraints that prevent them from using their experience and intuition to coach, mentor and train controllers toward correcting deficiencies," Conley said.

He expressed concern the program could lead to an erosion "of personal accountability" if limits aren't placed on the ability of controllers to file multiple reports of errors "without some form of consequence."

But Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers, said the voluntary reporting program has been "a resounding success and is already enhancing safety." He said managers "should be proactive in doing their jobs, not waiting until" an error report is filed to take action.

Several lawmakers have expressed concern that an increase in errors by controllers may be jeopardizing safety.