Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg cites ‘uptick’ in aviation incidents at FAA safety summit reviewing ‘serious close calls’


On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg cited an “increase” in recent aviation incidents and called on attendees of a Federal Aviation Administration safety summit to help find the “root causes” of the problem.

“We are particularly concerned because we have seen an increase in serious close calls,” Buttigieg said in his opening remarks, referring to a series of near-misses at runways across the United States.

After the rare summit, the FAA said discussions about how to prevent incidents at airports ranged from overworked pilots and flight attendants to better air traffic control technology.

“Pilots and flight attendants have expressed concern that they continue to experience job stress, including long hours of work in adverse conditions,” the FAA said following closed meetings closed. “A major concern was workforce experience and attrition.”

The summit comes after the FAA said it was investigating another close call between commercial airliners. The most recent close call took place at Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC – the seventh since the start of this year.

On March 7, Republic Airways Flight 4736 crossed a runway, without clearance, that United Airlines Flight 2003 was using for takeoff, according to a preliminary review, the FAA said. The United pilot had just been cleared for takeoff, the agency said.

“An air traffic controller noticed the situation and immediately canceled the takeoff clearance for the United flight,” the FAA said.

The FAA security summit in McLean, Va., is the first of its kind since 2009 and kicks off a comprehensive security review the agency is conducting in the wake of the incursions.

The agency said it was looking for “ways to address areas where the existing security system could be strengthened”, including finding new technology to help alert air traffic controllers when planes and other vehicles are on a collision course on runways and taxiways.

“The FAA has issued a call to industry to help identify technologies that could augment existing surface surveillance equipment capabilities and deploy this technology to all airports with air traffic control services,” the statement said. ‘agency.

Later this month, the FAA will host a risk mitigation workshop at the 200 busiest commercial airports in the United States.

“There is no doubt that aviation is incredibly safe, but vigilance can never take a day off,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement. “We have to ask ourselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions, even when we are convinced that the system is sound.”

Buttigieg said aviation interests must identify “very concrete diagnosis and specific action steps” to reduce the number of near misses.

“It would be one thing if we found a certain technology in the cockpit or a certain control tower where there was a lot of trouble,” Buttigieg told CNN. “But instead, we’re seeing that pilots, ground crews and controllers seem to be experiencing this uptick. Some have described it as a kind of rust.

“We’re not going to wait for something worse to happen to act now,” he told CNN, adding that efforts should culminate in “making sure we can save lives at airports across the country.” “.

In remarks at the opening of the summit – which was attended by safety investigators, industry representatives, union leaders and others – the Transport Secretary said the gathering was about “the whole system , which means it’s about all of us.”

Buttigieg said Wednesday’s summit was the first in a series of coordinated events the FAA will host to find out what’s working well and what “new steps” need to be taken to ensure safety.

Air travel has a strong safety record and is the safest form of transportation, Buttigieg said, but “we dare not” take that record for granted.

The president of the National Transportation Safety Board told summit attendees that the safety agency made seven recommendations on runway crashes that were not adopted.

“One is 23 years old and still relevant today on the technology warning pilots of an impending collision,” President Jennifer Homendy said.

“How many times are we going to have to issue the same recommendations over and over again?” she asked.

Homendy said she has already found a common problem with the six runway incursions they are investigating. In each case, the cockpit voice recorder, known as one of the black boxes, was crushed, preventing investigators from hearing what happened in the cockpit.

“All federal agencies here today need to ask themselves: Are we doing everything we can to make our skies safer? We asked ourselves that question at the NTSB,” she said.

Nick Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, the trade association representing major airlines, said at the summit, “There is always a self-assessment going on.”

Calio said airlines are looking at their data to try to find ways to make aviation safer so that close runway calls, like those being investigated by the NTSB, don’t happen. .

“I don’t want to speculate too much about what happened there, as they are all under investigation. And we’re all trying to figure out what’s going on. Is this a trend? Is it a model? ” he said.

Rich Santa, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, cited understaffing at air traffic control towers as a potential culprit.

“Unfortunately, we have a staffing problem at the moment, as air traffic controllers. We are 1,200 fewer certified professional controllers today than 10 years ago,” he said at the summit. “It is time for us to staff the facilities accurately and adequately.”

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen told the summit that the agency “continues to hire” and is on track to hire 1,500 screeners this year and another 1,800 next year.

The NTSB is investigating the series of runway incursions involving commercial airliners. The near-misses at U.S. runways also prompted federal safety investigators to open an in-depth review.

Last month, a Southwest passenger plane and a FedEx cargo plane came within 100 feet of the collision at an airport in Austin, Texas, and it was a pilot — not air traffic controllers — that averted disaster, according to Homendy.

In January, there was an alarming close call similar to this one. A Delta Air Lines flight was taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York when air traffic controllers “noted another aircraft crossing the runway in front of the departing airliner,” the FAA said in a statement.


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