SCARY SKIES

Is Air Traffic Control Keeping Us Safe?

Something to think about next time you're fastening your seatbeat before takeoff: GQ's Jeanne Marie Laskas reports on America's struggling air traffic controllers from inside a control tower in New York's hectic La Guardia airport. The tower is "the center of the universe ... serving 23 million passengers a year as they fly in and out of the most congested airspace in the world." The air traffic controllers, nicknamed "swivelheads" for their fast-paced monitoring of planes, are over-worked, under-appreciated, and dependent upon ancient equipment. They are "choreographers, deciders, big-picture people with a knack for making split-second decisions based on physics, geometry, aerodynamics, and God-given guts." But what happens when these gifted people retire? Labor shortages are a big problem for the industry, so existing controllers are forced to work even more hours, and the FAA is recruiting less-educated people to fill the vacancies. Yikes.