Report: Airline passengers at risk on airport runways

by Brian Mooar
NBC News

There is a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision here in the United States because of a lack of federal leadership, technological breakdowns and fatigue among air traffic controllers.

That's the troubling bottom line of a report by government accountability office released Wednesday.

"The failure to address issues of 20 years ago appears again in 2007," said Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar.

The report says runway incursions increased dramatically in 2007 after a steady decline since 2001.

And no one agency is taking the responsibility for fixing the problem.

"Progress was beginning to be made 2001 and the FAA went away when the problem went away," said Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello.

Ground traffic radar systems installed at 34 of the nation's busiest airports don't work well during heavy rain or snow, and that's when they're needed most.

The report also says air traffic controllers are being overworked.

At Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the nation's busiest, half of the controllers regularly have to work six-day weeks.

The former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said fewer flights would help.

"We're going to have to adjust frequency obviously at some of these airports. That's already been done in the highly traveled East Coast corridor," said former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall.

But virtually everyone involved agrees there is no quick fix with the skies getting more crowded every day.

The FAA says it is running an aggressive and effective safety program and that the number of serious incursions last year was actually at a record low.