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FAA panel calls for ‘urgent action’ after near-misses at US airports

November 21, 2023  - By
Image: mura4art/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

Image: mura4art/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

An expert safety review team assembled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) addressed several near-misses at U.S. airports in recent months. The group has called for “urgent action” to be taken to maintain airline safety.

The National Airspace System Safety Review Team released a 52-page report on Nov. 15, which cited air traffic control staffing shortages, technology issues and funding needs as the suspected reasons for the incidents.

The review team, which includes former FAA executives, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman and former aviation union leaders, was established in April 2023. The group was tasked with examining the air traffic control system and delivering recommendations on how to enhance safety, according to the  FAA.

Additionally, the report said that past investments in overhauling FAA technology have worsened the agency’s technology. Newer systems are being layered on top of older systems, and few of the old systems have been decommissioned or replaced, according to the report.

The old systems are becoming difficult to maintain because companies have gone out of business, spare parts are no longer available and the older workers who installed the technologies are retiring without passing knowledge onto younger employees. The equipment replacement backlog is $5.3 billion.

The panel also called for significant changes to the way air traffic controllers are trained. The report said using upgraded simulators and removing “unnecessary and outdated curriculum” could lead to faster certification and more employees.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the FAA is 3,000 controllers short of its goal, and according to the union representing controllers, the ranks grew by only 6% in the past year. If the current hiring plan is followed, only 200 empty seats would be filled, the report said.

The understaffing is causing controllers to work significant amounts of overtime, which the report said is causing “absenteeism, lower productivity and fatigue.” 

The report comes as the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting separate investigations into several of the near collisions, one involving a near collision in Boston and a collision involving two private jets in Houston. The near misses have since caught the attention of Congress. A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on Nov. 9, where Jennifer L. Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, stressed the importance of safety checks to maintain airline safety.

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