FAA creates safety review panel after series of close calls at US airports – KESQ

By Greg Wallace and Pete Muntean, CNN

The Federal Aviation Administration is establishing an independent safety review team after several near misses commercial aircraft at US airports in recent months.

The FAA’s National Airspace System Safety Review Team will be tasked with examining the air traffic system and providing recommendations on how to improve safety, a Press release from the FAA said.

The announcement comes as the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating six incidents just this year and about a month after the FAA issued a rare industry-wide advisory “Security Call to Action” urging carriers to intensify surveillance at airports.

“We are committed to maintaining the safest period in US aviation history,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in the statement. “This team will strengthen our ongoing safety efforts and identify specific investments we can make to strengthen the National Airspace System.”

The team includes former officials with experience leading the FAA and in several of the areas overseen by the agency, including pilots, air traffic control and space. It also includes a former head of the National Transportation Safety Board. He will begin his work in May and deliver recommendations by October, according to the statement.

Nolen announced last week that it will be lower from the FAA this summer after serving as acting administrator since March 2022.

He is testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a budget hearing before the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations and Related Agencies.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressed “serious close calls” in a security summit in March, asking industry officials to help find the “root causes” of the problem.

“It would be one thing if we found a certain piece of technology in the cockpit or a certain control tower where there were a lot of problems,” Buttigieg told CNN. “But instead, what we are finding is that pilots, ground crews and controllers seem to be experiencing this increase. Some have described it as a kind of rust.”

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

Days after the summit, the FAA Air Traffic Organization issued a note set out the steps that need to be taken to prevent further close calls.

The memo from Air Traffic Organization director of operations Tim Arel read: “There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls.”

He directed supervisors to “devote their full attention to the operation and the airfield during peak traffic periods at each facility” and directed training improvements.

Additional safety steps include working with the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers to reinforce existing safety protocols and re-examining runway incursion data “to identify the underlying factors that led to these close calls and identify remedies.” “.

Among the problems facing air traffic controllers is a significant problem of understaffing.

The FAA halted the hiring and training of air traffic controllers during the pandemic, but hiring has since resumed. Nationwide, only 90% of air traffic control posts are occupied, the FAA said.

“We have critical personnel at most of our air traffic control facilities,” Richard Santa, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers, told CNN. “It affects efficiencies, redundancies, and resiliency.”

flying is still safe

close calls are investigated by the NTSB have involved planes taking off or landing at New York airport JFK International AirportHawaii Daniel K. Inouye International AirportBurbank Airport in California, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport in florida, the Austin Bergström International Airport in Texas and Boston Logan International Airport.

During a Senate committee hearing last monthButtigieg said the most serious types of near misses on U.S. runways this year were occurring at a rate roughly double that seen in the past.

“In recent years, they have occurred at about a once-a-month rate,” he told the committee. “Right now, they are happening this year at a rate that is double.”

Buttigieg spoke specifically about the two most serious categories of runway incursions, saying there is a “definite increase.”

“We think the rally is partly related to the especially rapid increase in demand and the rapid return to the skies, faster than even the most optimistic scenarios we heard a couple of years ago,” Buttigieg said. “Of course, we need to make sure that as the system gets back to that high level of demand, there’s not a negative impact on security.”

Despite recent close calls at airports, flying remains an incredibly safe mode of travel. Typically, about 45,000 flights are completed each day in the US, all without fatalities. That’s a number that continues to rise following a slowdown in commercial flights at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Julia Buckley contributed to this report.

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