Federal Aviation Administration officials said yesterday that they are taking new steps to get better information on what is right and wrong with the air traffic control system and to improve the professionalism of air traffic controllers.
Robert H. Throne, chief of the FAA's new Quality Assurance Division in the Air Traffic Service, announced the steps at a news briefing. In the next few months, he said, the FAA will:
* Develop a quality control program to catch errors in procedure or decision-making by controllers before those errors develop into habits.
* Begin using its air traffic control computers to help identify potential "operational errors," a euphemism the FAA uses to describe what happens when airplanes get too close to each other.
* Develop a system of classifying the seriousness and cause of operational errors to see if trends can be spotted that might lead to unsafe situations.
Throne said the program should be in place nationwide by the end of 1984, but will be tested first at three air traffic control centers. He said that the announcement of the program was not timed to preempt the National Transportation Safety Board, which is expected to report next week on the safety of the air traffic control system. The board is expected to find that the FAA needs to improve its system of reporting and investigation incidents and errors.
The issue is particularly sensitive now as the FAA is rebuilding its air traffic service with new controllers. About 11,400 controllers were fired by President Reagan when they went on strike in August, 1981. The FAA has been hiring new controllers while using supervisors and military controllers to keep the system running.
The new program will include an attempt to improve the so-called conflict alert system, a flashing warning on the controller's screen that occurs when the computer predicts a potential collision in the air within two minutes. The flashing alert often is suppressed by controllers after they review the situation, because the computer does not have all the facts about pilot intention.
Under the new system, the computer will notify a supervisor and force the alert back on to the controller's screen if the conflict still exists after one minute.