Jim Burnett, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a Senate committee last week that the federal air traffic control system will be running dangerously near capacity this summer. In his words, the Federal Aviation Administratation is "trying to run the system up to the red line. . . . We need to build in a margin of safety."
The FAA, insisting that the system is safe, has rejected the board's proposal that airline flights be cut back during the busy summer months to relieve the strain on air traffic controllers. In a situation where the lives of air travelers are directly at stake, it seems self-evident that a disagreement among the experts should be resolved in favor of a greater safety margin.
The controversy over summer airline scheduling is really just a reflection of a larger, more fundamental failure by Congress and the Reagan Administration to keep pace with the growing strain on the air traffic control system.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole warned congressional budget-makers a few days ago that a prospective $250-million cut in funds for the FAA could seriously affect safety. Such a cut, she said, would require a hiring freeze on controllers and air safety inspectors in the face of a 6% traffic growth.