Transport: Aircraft near-misses up a third

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British air traffic controllers reported 70 near-misses between passenger jets last year - an increase of more than a third on 1995 - according to a report released yesterday.

Despite the rise, officials at the Civil Aviation Authority, the air safety regulator, pointed out that the rate of very serious incidents was going down. Pilots and controllers reported only 24 this year compared with 31 in 1995 and 1996. "There are blips from time to time when the number of reported incidents increase and this is one of them," said Bill Semple, chief executive of the National Air Traffic Service. Mr Semple said that the system "encouraged" pilots and controllers to report air misses and that sophisticated technology which was detecting an increasing number of low-risk incidents. Michael Willett, director of safety regulation at the CAA, said: "There does seem to be a groundswell of opinion that these incidents are a growing problem, but I don't think that is correct."