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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

FAA Announces Further Measures to Reduce Close Calls

The FAA plans to hire 1,800 controllers in the coming year provided the agency receives the required funding to do so.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a statement in response to a New York Times article which said close calls at airports happen far more than was previously known.

Since then, the FAA has announced additional measures to reduce the number of close calls. One day after the New York Times article and subsequent statement, FAA said it will hold runway safety meetings at approximately 90 airports between now and the end of September.

“Sharing information is critical to improving safety,” said Tim Arel, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “These meetings, along with other efforts, will help us achieve our goal of zero close calls.”

During a Runway Safety Action Team meeting, airport stakeholders come together to identify unique risks to surface safety at that airport and develop plans to mitigate or eliminate those risks. Representatives from the FAA’s air traffic organization, airlines, pilots, airport vehicle drivers and others participate. 

Major airports with upcoming runway safety meetings include Ronald Reagan Washington National, La Guardia New York, Dallas-Fort Worth International, Cleveland Hopkins International, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Reno/Tahoe International and Birmingham Shuttlesworth International. A full list can be seen at the FAA

The meetings, held annually at each airport with a control tower, are the primary forum for pinpointing and addressing airport-specific risk in the surface environment. The product of the meetings is a Runway Safety Action Plan where stakeholders document and agree to pursue specific actions to improve surface safety.

“These meetings will play a significant role in developing effective safety strategies and provide an opportunity for all in attendance to share both concerns and best practices,” Former Federal Security Director at Los Angeles International Airport and now Vice President of K2 Security Screening Group, Keith Jeffries told Homeland Security Today. “Open communication and collaboration are vital for ensuring success in reducing the number of near miss surface incidents.”

On August 23, the FAA announced the award of more than $121 million to airports across the country to reduce the risk of runway incursions. Projects will reconfigure taxiways that may cause confusion, install new lighting systems and provide more flexibility on the airfield.

“The FAA is serious about ending runway incursions and we are putting substantial resources behind our efforts,” said Associate Administrator for Airports Shannetta Griffin, P.E. “In some cases the best way to address safety risks is modifying or reconfiguring existing airfields – these grants directly address those situations.”

The projects announced on Wednesday include $44.9 million to simplify airfield layout at Boston Logan International Airport and $5 million to begin construction of new connector taxiways at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

Then on August 24, the FAA announced it had hit its annual hiring goal for air traffic controllers, echoing one of the statements made earlier in response to the New York Times article. The FAA added that it plans to hire 1,800 controllers in the coming year provided the agency receives the required funding to do so. In its statement, the FAA said it now has approximately 2,600 controllers being trained at facilities across the country, and that “many of these controllers are already certified to safely work some air traffic positions as they continue training on others”.

“Having 2,600 controllers in the training pipeline is significant,” Jeffries told us. “However, it will take some time for the results to be realized. The eventual impact will not only improve airport operations, but it will also make air travel safer and more efficient for the traveling public.”

A recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit found staffing shortages at air traffic control facilities and also a lack of any plan to address this problem. In its June 21 report, OIG determined that 20 of 26 (77 percent) critical facilities are staffed below FAA’s 85-percent threshold, with New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and Miami Tower at 54 percent and 66 percent, respectively. Having a reduced number of controllers frequently results in staff working longer hours, which could have an impact on mental acuity.

New controllers start their career journey at the FAA’s academy in Oklahoma City. After graduating, they relocate to one of the FAA’s hundreds of air traffic facilities. There they begin training to become certified on specific airspace positions for that facility, Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) or en route center. Certification varies from 18 to 24 months depending on the airspace complexity. The FAA said more than 12,000 individuals applied to be an air traffic controller earlier this year. Those that meet the basic qualifications then take the Air Traffic Skills Assessment exam. High scorers are invited to attend the FAA’s academy. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the FAA had to close its academy for six months in 2020 and pause on-the-job training at facilities for almost two years.

author avatar
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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