FAA Wallowing in Air Travel Blues

The Federal Aviation Administration better fasten its seat belt -- the month of June is off to a turbulent start.

Fresh reports of multiple midair near collisions in New York's heavily trafficked airspace surfaced today along with an investigation opened by the National Transportation Safety Board into a runway incursion in late May at San Francisco International Airport. Last Friday, a computer glitch, compounded by severe weather, caused severe flight delays and cancellations up and down the East Coast.

Across the industry, federal transportation officials confirmed this month that air travel inside the United States -- with 72 percent of domestic flights delayed between January and April -- is the most tardy it has been since record keeping began in 1995.

With a record like this, it could be a long and bumpy summer for the FAA, the federal agency charged with overseeing civil aviation in the United States.

House Democrats are expected to file a broad bill this week that outlines FAA funding, one way the federal government might address some of the problems facing the agency.

"If there is a legislative remedy or there is a need to push the FAA into an internal policy remedy, this would likely be the vehicle," said Jim Berard, communication director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Berard could not provide specifics of the reauthorization bill, but said it would be the place where federal studies could be mandated and funding would be outlined.

To some FAA critics, the bill provides a glimmer of hope that the agency's record can somehow improve.

"To me, [the FAA] seems like an alcoholic floating around the bar that doesn't seem to know they have a drinking problem," said Phil Barbarello, the regional vice president of the air traffic controllers union.

One way to curtail some of the FAA's problems, Barbarello said, would be to increase the number of air traffic controllers making sure planes don't come dangerously close to crossing paths. The FAA and air traffic control union have been at odds recently over what should be considered proper staffing levels.

The FAA confirmed to ABC News that it is investigating pilot reports about five midair near misses during the month of May involving planes flying into and out of New York and New Jersey airports. In 2006, there were only three incidents of near misses in the same area for the entire year.

The definition of a near miss is two planes flying less than 500 feet apart. Under FAA guidelines, planes are required to remain three miles apart horizontally and 1,000 feet apart vertically. Near-miss reports are voluntarily made by pilots and are based on a pilot's perception of how close planes get to each other. The FAA then investigates the accuracy of the reports using actual data.

The FAA could not confirm any spike in near misses in the area, but did say the incidents in question were not tied to any staffing shortages.

Two of the near misses reported by pilots involved Jet Blue airplanes, two involved Continental flights and one involved an American Eagle aircraft.

Both American Eagle and Continental confirmed to ABC News that pilots had filed near-miss reports.

In a statement released by JetBlue, the airline said that they will work with pilots and the FAA to investigate any incident resembling a near midair collision -- including the May 1 and May 8 flights indicated in the press account.

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