Following a spate of incidents across the US, and faced with a summer of crowded skies, the FAA is taking action to improve safety.

Aircraft lined up at New York JFK Airport
Photo: Xavier Marchant I Shutterstock

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Billy Nolen, has said that the aviation industry must work to address safety concerns following a series of near-miss incidents. There have been six serious runway incursions since January, and just last month, a FedEx cargo aircraft and a Southwest Airlines passenger Boeing 737 came within 100 feet of each other, in what the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said could have been a “terrible tragedy.”

At an industry meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday, Nolen alluded to the pressures on the system following the pandemic that could have been behind the spate of incidents, saying,

“Going forward, zero has to be the only acceptable number for serious incidents and close calls. Air travel is coming back in a big way since the pandemic. But the long layoff, coupled with the increased technical nature of our systems, might have caused some professionals to lose some of that muscle memory.”

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737

Photo: Angel DiBilio | Shutterstock

The aviation industry has been plagued by staff shortages over recent months, and air traffic control centers are no different. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association confirmed that intense recruitment drives have failed to keep up with demand, and there are currently 1,200 fewer certified air traffic controllers than there were ten years ago.

The Air Traffic Organization’s chief operating officer, Tim Arel, said, “there is no question that we are seeing too many close calls,” and the FAA has gone on to advise that it is taking steps to improve its air traffic control operations. As an immediate action, the agency issued a safety alert to airlines last week, citing the “need for continued vigilance and attention to mitigation of safety risks.”

Delta Air Lines Airbus A220

Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

In a bid to ease congestion throughout the summer, the FAA also said that it would temporarily cut the minimum flight requirements for airlines to keep hold of take-off and landing slots at busy airports. This includes airports such as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), where a deal has been struck with both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines for the carriers to temporarily return up to 10% of slots. A further meeting is due to be held this week to focus on the air traffic control issues faced specifically in the New York City-area.

Ongoing troubles for the FAA

The FAA is still without a permanent head, after President Biden’s pick to lead the agency, Phil Washington, withdrew his nomination following criticism from Republicans over his apparent lack of experience in the aviation industry. As a result, it is likely that the permanent position will go to Nolen, although this has yet to be confirmed.

All this comes on the back of a challenging few years for the FAA. The agency’s reputation took a battering following the two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, which occurred after it had certified the aircraft as airworthy. There is no doubt that this recent series of near misses will do little to restore travelers’ confidence.

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Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX

Although the FAA has recognized the issue and has outlined its desire for “zero close calls,” when it comes to complex matters such as aviation safety, a joined up approach is required from all parties across the industry, including the FAA, airlines, airports, and manufacturers.

What do you think of the recent spate of safety incidents across the US? Do you feel safe when flying as a result? What else can the FAA do to improve the situation? Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below.

Source: Reuters


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