Horror stories about air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job during the past few months don't really indicate higher danger for the traveling public, the Federal Aviation Administration has insisted. The public hears more about traffic control errors simply because of a better reporting system, the FAA maintains.
That claim has been shot down in flames by Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel. His office reported this week there has been a 39 percent increase in errors at air traffic control centers handling planes at high altitude. That is "an absolute increase," not just an upswing in public awareness, Scovel told members of Congress.
An even more startling statistic from Scovel is that from 2009 to 2010, there was a 53 percent increase in situations in which aircraft came too close to each other. One of air traffic controllers' tasks is to keep that from happening.
Congress should insist the FAA provide answers on why controllers are making more mistakes. More important, the agency needs to take steps right now to decrease errors.
Scovel's revelations damage the FAA's credibility and call into question the judgment of officials who, while knowing a dangerous problem is developing, mislead the public. Americans who fly deserve to know they are safe - not to have to wonder whether the FAA is covering up serious problems.
The good news about the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is that the old terrorist didn't want to learn new tricks, according to intelligence analysts. Documents captured by the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden show he planned to continue targeting attacks against aircraft, trains and ships, as al-Qaida had done for years.
That pattern helped U.S. and other anti-terrorism forces prevent new attacks.
But now, with al-Qaida under new, undetermined leadership, the bad news is the pattern could change. New targets, more difficult to defend, could be chosen.
That reaffirms what should have been obvious - that the only sure defense against the terrorists is to eliminate them.