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Controllers at LAX Set Safety Mark

October 01, 2003|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Air traffic controllers have handled more than 1 million takeoffs and landings at Los Angeles International Airport since June 2002 with no operational error, a local record, officials said Tuesday.

"As far as we know, it's never happened at LAX before," said Mike Foote, an airport tower controller and president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn.'s LAX tower local.

Foote said the 14 months without a controller error compares with a previous average of two to three errors a year at LAX, the nation's fourth-busiest airport.

Bill Shuman, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Washington, said the "none in a million" achievement is noteworthy but not unprecedented.

"Several other facilities have done it," he said.

The safety record at LAX has improved steadily since the period from 1997 to 2000, when there were 13 serious near-crashes, more than at any other of the nation's busiest airports.

Many of those incidents involved runway incursions, in which airplanes invaded safety zones around runways being used by other aircraft.

Foote said most of the incursions occurred because of errors by pilots, rather than FAA controllers. But the FAA took the blame for an incursion that led to a serious accident 12 years ago.

On the night of Feb. 1, 1991, a controller mistakenly cleared a USAir jetliner to land on a runway where she already had positioned a SkyWest commuter plane for takeoff.

The Boeing 737 jetliner struck the commuter plane and both aircraft exploded in flames, killing 22 people on the jet and all 12 aboard the smaller plane.

Rather than place primary responsibility for the crash on the controller, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed a poor work environment created by FAA mismanagement.

The tower management was completely overhauled after the crash.

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