AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champThe risk of runway incursions was attributed to a combination of technological problems, poor federal leadership and overworked air traffic controllers, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. In the report, the GAO called on the FAA to address fatigue among air traffic controllers, who are dealing with more flights since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that employs air traffic controllers, argued that runway incursions reported at LAX are not related to staffing shortages in the control tower. “Controller error is not the leading cause of runway incursions at LAX or anywhere else,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “In airports where aircraft have to cross active runways, such as LAX, there is a higher chance of an incursion,” Gregor said. “That means LAX needs to do something to fix its runways, not the control tower staffing issue.” The issue has become so contentious that the FAA and the controllers union still can’t agree on the number of air traffic controllers working at LAX: The union says 33 controllers work at LAX tower, and the FAA says there are 34 certified controllers, one trainee and 11 so-called developmentals who can do some work on their own. Just a few years ago, the FAA had authorized 47 controllers for LAX, but that number has dropped to a range of 38 to 46 controllers, Gregor said. The change came after a contract with the union expired, allowing the FAA to more closely examine the needs of the nation’s airports, he said. Foote argued that the FAA “pulls the numbers out of thin air. They make it up.” The decrease, however, did not please local lawmakers, who accused the FAA of making this a labor dispute. “The FAA has not been willing to see this as a safety issue, they only see it as a labor issue,” said Marc Carrell, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo. “We hope putting on the pressure will get the FAA to move forward,” Carrell said. “If they don’t, we may need to enact some type of federal legislation.” Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he plans to ask the FAA to send more experienced controllers to LAX. “For me, it’s impossible to appreciate why the FAA would cut back air traffic controllers as we increase the number of planes coming into our airport,” said Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes LAX. “It appears to me to be a dereliction in duty and causes problems we do not need to have.” Fifty-five runway incursions have been reported at LAX since 2001, eight of which occurred during the 2007 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the FAA. Eighty percent of those incursions were caused by pilot error, and 17 percent were found be caused by air traffic controller errors, according to Gregor. Three percent of the incursions were blamed on runway-vehicle drivers. The most serious of those incidents occurred Aug. 16, when two jetliners came within 37 feet of each other on the northern airfield at LAX. Foote said an inexperienced controller mistakenly cleared one of the planes to cross a runway where another plane was taking off. “That was a perfect example of an inexperienced controller in the tower,” Foote said. Gregor said that the controller in question was a developmental but was cleared to do some work on his own. “The reason for most runway incursions is airfield geometry, not controller error,” Gregor said. “LAX is a busy airport, and airfield geometry has been a contributing factor to most runway incursions there.” But one state lawmaker from the South Bay disagrees with Gregor’s assessment. Along with hiring more air traffic controllers, Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-El Segundo, said he wants to limit the number of flights coming into LAX and space jetliners farther apart when they come in for a landing. “It’s not a geometry problem with runway configuration, it’s an arithmetic problem with the number of flights at LAX,” said Lieu, whose 53rd District includes LAX. Lieu also wants LAX to hold off on allowing the newest and largest planes, such as the Airbus A-380, to land at the airport until all safety issues are resolved. Gregor said that such a move would lead to airline delays across the country. “With LAX being one of the busiest airports in the world, his plan is just not feasible,” Gregor said. “It would have a ripple effect on air travel in the United States.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Air traffic controllers are overworked and understaffed to the point that serious mistakes could go unnoticed on the runways at Los Angeles International Airport, the head of the controllers’ union said on Wednesday. The shortage at LAX tower often means two overtime shifts every month for each of the controllers, who might not catch close calls on the runways, according to Michael Foote, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “No one silver bullet is going to solve the complex issue of runway safety, but the biggest safety concern at the airport is the lack of experienced controllers working at LAX tower,” Foote told the Los Angeles City Council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee. Although the city of Los Angeles has no say in hiring air traffic controllers, Foote aired the union’s grievances two weeks after a scathing congressional report found a “high risk” of close calls among aircraft maneuvering on the ground at the nation’s airports.