FAA And The Air Traffic Controllers Issue

Federal Aviation Administration or abbreviated FAA functions as an agency in the department of Transportation in the US that is responsible of safety of the civil aviation. FAA was created by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 that granted the agency the power to deal with the aviation related hazards. In addition to this FAA is responsible for the maintenance of the civil-military systems of navigation and traffic control in the air (Lowy, 2011). The agency’s mission today is “to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world.” FAA also certifies all airmen and airports that act in the category of carriers.

Accidents and Incidents

As stated above FAA main objective is to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system. And for this reason the agency is responsible of maintaining accidents and incident database; these constitutes the actual reports that originate from the National Transport Safety Board. The radar system of the nation’s airspace is 50 years old and as the volume of traffic in the US skies keeps on increasing on a daily basis, the system is unable to cope up with these volumes (Romero, 2011). The system does not travel through mountains and refresh every 4.7 seconds. The air traffic controllers have been seen to fall asleep while monitoring this system. Several incidences of air traffic controllers falling asleep while on the job have been reported.

On 18th April 2011 an incident involving the first lady and the wife of the vice-president, Jill Biden occurred when Boeing 737 one of the planes used by the White House belongings to the Air National Guard came too close (3 miles) to a massive C-17 as they were approaching Andrew’s Air Force Base in Maryland for landing. The ideal separation of two planes during landing is 5 miles when the plane that is on the lead is more than 200 ton cargo jet. The air traffic controllers ordered the plane carrying the First lady to conduct a series of turns to buy time and bring the plane further from the cargo plane. They then realized that this won’t provide enough time to clear the runaway before her plane landed. The separation distance between the two planes was compromised.

Such landings are not unusual but the first lady was not in danger but this live to be an embarrassment to FAA administration. Continued questions were referred to FAA by the White House on the incident. The incidence was investigated by FAA and reported as a possible error by the radar facility in the region (Lowy, 2011). But there have been incidences where air controllers were caught sleeping during their shift. Such at Knoxville incident where the official in charge intentionally slept for five hours even when he was woken up by a colleague. , Cleveland Ohio radar facility where a controller was caught watching a movie during work during his hours of work.

Air-Traffic Control’s Post Radar Age and the FAA Management

The old radar system has been seen to have many limitations but the new technology is coming into place to combat the old system limitations. In the beginning of March FAA started implementing the new system that will be slowly phased out and the final roll out is expected by year 2020. The senior management in FAA is seen to be responsible for the changes that will take place (Lowy, 2011). The new system is called NextGen and is said to be satellite-based rather than radar dependant.

The satellite technology that is already installed in the Gulf of Mexico has eliminated one problem that the radar has posed for a long time, the ability to track planes when they are 200 miles offshore. All aircrafts that are meant to land in Mexico and point south from the US can be controlled by the air traffic controllers in Houston and they have to wait for 10 minutes before one plane depart to the coast.

NextGen satellite technology is FAA hope that it will make the work of their-traffic controllers easier and will combat the problem of congestion in the skies. Refresh times will be eliminated because of the continuity of satellite information. This will have ensured that the controllers will keep a keen eye and many voice communications will be eliminated. In the current radar system there is usually a voice communication between the pilot and controller and in some instances may hear it incorrectly.

In this case what constitutes the process of change is largely identified by the senior management; the administrator, his/her deputy and the five associates. When the change is developed by the senior management it proves itself to be well-founded. On the other hand it is solid enough to make the strategy of change (Lowy, 2011). Therefore many agencies/organization such as FAA can benefit differently from the sample of strategies. In the end this will lead to the success of the agency and aspects such as support of the juniors, careful planning, communication and leadership and management.

Leading and Motivation

Although NextGen will easy the work of the air controllers boredom will not be foreseen which is a major problem for controllers. The job description will not change as they will be responsible for the aircraft separation. They will be active and not idle bystanders who will be watching all the proceedings (Robbins & Counter, 2007). Nextgen is seen as another layer of protection and not a replacement of the air-traffic control. Therefore it not allowed for the controller to fall asleep while on duty.

Therefore the management can motivate the controllers by taking measures such as scheduled nap times that may alleviate the problem of controllers falling asleep on the shift. As people say “a good night sleep can solve lots of problems” Good leaders can formulate strategies that motivate the juniors and controllers at large.



Lowy, J. (2011). FAA fires air traffic controllers for sleeping. Retrieved June 13th , 2011, from

Robbins, S., & Counter, M. K. (2007). Management. New Jersey. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Romero, F. (2011). Beyond the Blips: Air-Traffic Control’s Postradar Age. Retrieved May 9th 2011, from:,8599,2068561,00.html