Federal Aviation Administration holds safety summit after ‘close calls’

Seven near-collisions this year on U.S. runways prompt FAA meeting on airline safety
There have been seven near-crashes at U.S. airport runways since the start of 2023.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 6:20 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Atlanta News First) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held a summit in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to discuss safety in the wake of a number of near-crashes at U.S. airports since the start of 2023.

The latest incident happened last week at Reagan National Airport, where an American Eagle jet taxied across a runway as a United Airlines plane was about to take off.

It marked the seventh close call in the U.S. since the start of the year, where planes narrowly missed each other on the ground.

The other incidents were in Boston, New York, Burbank, Austin, Honolulu, and Sarasota.

“Are there other issues we need to be paying attention to? Is this the fever trying to tell us something?” asked Robert Sumwalt, a Transportation Safety Analyst in the Wednesday summit.

Adequate training, funding, and technology were all topics of discussion.

“We have a staffing issue right now as air traffic controllers,” said Rich Santa, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “We are 1,200 certified controllers less than 10 years ago.”

With flight numbers nearly back to what they were in 2019, some said the demand bounced back faster than the workforce.

“It’s not just new pilots-- it’s new everybody,” said Captain Jason Ambrosi, President of the Air Line Pilots Association. “Controllers, flight attendants, ground people. It’s just this post-COVID rapid recovery. There’s just so much going on.”

One of the ideas he posed was a pilot mentorship program, where senior pilots could help newer ones ahead of their retirement.

They also discussed implementing new technology more swiftly and making sure everyone is trained on it appropriately.

“There needs to be funding for staffing. There needs to be funding for technology, and, right now, we are not meeting that demand. “That’s what we have to do to modernize the air space,” said Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for America.

Atlanta is home to the world’s busiest airport. None of these incursions happened at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but Spokesman Andy Gobeil says they have safeguards in place to help prevent close calls.

For example, the airport has end-around taxiways. Those keep planes from having cross multiple runways, reducing the risk of collisions. The airport added their second one back in November, making Hartsfield-Jackson one of two airports in the country to have two end-around taxiways.

Gobeil issued a statement saying:

“ATL’s top priority is to provide a safe, efficient experience for all of our travelers and employees. We work constantly with our partners and stakeholders to ensure ATL’s infrastructure enables safe aircraft operations.”

FAA administrator Billy Nolen says they are on pace to hire 1,500 air traffic controllers this year and 1,800 next year.

A 2017 forum by the National Transportation Safety Board found the most common causes of runway incursions were pilots ignoring orders from air traffic controllers, or miscommunication between them.