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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

FAA Responds as New York Times Says Close Calls Happen More Often Than Previously Known

The Safety Review Team began its work in May and is expected to complete its work by October 2023 when it will deliver recommended actions the FAA can take to enhance safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a statement following the publication of an article by the New York Times which says close calls between commercial aircraft happen far more often than was previously known.

The article provides recent examples, including an aborted landing at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, two near misses at San Francisco, and an in-air collision warning following an air traffic controller error. The New York Times says these incidents are just a few of “at least 46 close calls involving commercial airlines last month alone” and that current and former air traffic controllers said that “close calls were happening so frequently that they feared it was only a matter of time until a deadly crash occurred”.

In response, the FAA said in a statement that “the U.S. aviation system is the safest in the world, but one close call is one too many”. The statement goes on to say that the FAA and the aviation community are pursuing a goal of zero serious close calls, a commitment from the Safety Summit in March. The FAA adds that the same approach virtually eliminated the risk of fatalities aboard U.S. commercial airlines, and notes that “since 2009, U.S. carriers have transported more than the world’s population with no fatal crashes”.
Multiple layers of safety are designed to protect the traveling public, including Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems on commercial aircraft, surface safety technology at the country’s biggest airports, and dedicated procedures

“The FAA maintains extremely conservative standards for keeping aircraft safely separated,” the agency’s statement read. “Safety experts follow up on all events — even those in which no collision was imminent or even possible — and evaluate them for safety risks. The agency publishes this information on our website, updating it as new information becomes available.”

The New York Times analyzed internal FAA records as well as federal safety reports and interviews with current and former pilots, controllers and federal officials. Reporters also studied a database maintained by NASA that contains confidential safety reports filed by pilots, air traffic controllers and others in aviation, which revealed that there were about 300 accounts of near collisions involving commercial airlines in the most recent 12-month analysis period. The Times says close calls have involved all major U.S. airlines and have happened nationwide.

The FAA has taken several additional steps so far this year to mitigate close calls, such as investing more than $100 million to 12 airports across the country to reduce runway incursions.

However, one of the biggest challenges the FAA faces is staffing air traffic control facilities. A recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit found staffing shortages at these facilities and also a lack of any plan to address this problem. OIG said that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the FAA’s ability to maintain the required number of controllers. 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.

In the FAA’s August 21 statement, it said that the agency “has hired 1,500 controllers for FY2023”, and that this is “in addition to the more than 2,600 controllers that are at various levels of training at air traffic facilities across the country”.

It is likely that further safety measures will be adopted. In April, the FAA named an independent safety review team to further examine ways to enhance safety and reliability in the nation’s air traffic system. The Safety Review Team began its work in May and is expected to complete its work by October 2023 when it will deliver recommended actions the FAA can take to enhance safety.

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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