The Federal Aviation Administration issued a safety alert Wednesday urging airlines to evaluate their safety procedures and communications, after a series of potentially devastating near-misses at multiple airports this winter caused FAA officials to reassess the air travel system.
There have been six runway incidents since the start of the year, including close calls involving a departing plane at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and another at Austin-Bergstrom Airport involving a plane that was landing (none of the incidents resulted in fatalities).
The recent spate of close calls doesn’t reflect an increase in the number of incidents, but the FAA warned the “potential severity of these events is concerning.”
The FAA urged airline directors and pilots to use “all available internal communication systems and have all flight crews familiarize themselves with the “risks associated with extraneous communications,” as well as the FAA’s so-called sterile flight deck rule, which limits aircraft activity to those required for safe operation while a plane is below 10,000 feet of altitude.
The safety alert comes one month after FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen launched a review of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization and called for a summit to consider additional safety measures and understand potential “emerging trends,” arguing the FAA can’t “become complacent.”
Last month, a Learjet pilot took off from Boston’s Logan International Airport without air traffic control clearance while the pilot of a JetBlue flight was preparing to land, causing the JetBlue pilot to pull up in a “climb-out maneuver” to avoid a collision, and prompting a federal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. One week later, a United Airlines plane on the tarmac at Logan clipped the wing of another United plane near the gate of the terminal. They were the latest close calls at U.S. airports, following the near-miss at JFK, when an American Airlines plane on the ground crossed a runway where the pilot of a Delta flight was preparing for take-off, avoiding a collision by less than 1,000 feet. The incident in Austin in January caused a FedEx cargo plane pilot to climb out while preparing to land, when a Southwest Airlines flight was about to take off, while in Honolulu, a single-engine cargo plane nearly collided with a United Airlines flight that same month. The FAA has also recorded incidents in Santa Barbara and Burbank, California, as well as at Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
What We Don’t Know
Why there have been so many high-profile near-misses at U.S. airports this year. Hassan Shahidi, the CEO of Flight Safety Foundation, told CBS News earlier this month it could be the result of more new pilots being hired as air travel returns to pre-Covid levels, following a pilot shortage last year. Some union officials have said the incidents could be due to pilots working longer hours: Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association and an American Airlines captain, told CNN the airline system has been “under pressure” for over a year, and that it was “just a question of time before it was going to manifest itself in incidents.”
Two Planes Clip At Boston Logan, Following Multiple Close Calls Around The Country (Forbes)
FAA Chief Admits ‘Cluster’ Of Near-Collisions Is ‘More Than You’d Expect To See’ (Forbes)