Air Traffic Control Problems
Air travel has increased dramatically since the U.S. federal government deregulated the airline industry in the 1970s. However, the construction of new airports and runways has not kept pace with the increase in air traffic. This has put excessive pressure on the air traffic control system to handle the nearly 50,000 flights per day, a number projected to increase in the near future. To handle these flights and avoid delays and collisions, the FAA and NASA have developed modern software, upgraded existing host computers and voice communications systems and instituted full-scale GPS (global positioning system) capabilities to help air traffic controllers track and communicate with aircraft. The FAA is currently redesigning U.S. airspace to make more room for increased traffic. For example, the U.S. military has freed previously restricted airspace off the coast of North Carolina for use by commercial aircraft. These efforts should help ease traffic and minimize delays in the short term; however, increasing airport capacity by building new runways and airports is ultimately the way to handle the problem. For more information, see Airlines Announce "Top Ten" Air Traffic Control Priorities.
In the event of an air crash or runway incursion (two planes on a collision course), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates. The NTSB team reconstructs the air-traffic services given to the plane, examines radar tracking data and studies transcripts of the controller-pilot conversations. See NTSB: The Investigative Process for details.
For more information about air traffic control and related topics, check out the links on the next page.