F.A.A. Issues Safety Alert After Runway Near Misses
The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday called on airlines to exercise “continued vigilance” after a string of high-profile near misses on runways, including at Kennedy International Airport in New York in January.
The agency’s notice said that while its data does “not reflect an increase in incidents and occurrences, the potential severity of these events is concerning.”
The F.A.A. issued the bulletin after holding a safety summit with airlines, airport operators and workers last week to address recent “incidents across the aviation system,” including unruly passengers and near misses on runways at major airports.
“I think I speak for all of us, and certainly the traveling public, when I say these events are concerning,” the F.A.A.’s acting administrator, Billy Nolen, said in his opening remarks at the summit. “They are not what we have come to expect during a time of unprecedented safety in the U.S. air transportation system.”
There are more than 45,000 flights each day in U.S. national airspace, according to the F.A.A. In recent months, planes came unnervingly close on runways in New York, Texas, Boston, Hawaii, Florida and Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.
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In January, a Delta Air Lines plane had to abort its takeoff after an American Airlines plane crossed about 1,000 feet in front of it at Kennedy. In February, two planes narrowly avoided a collision at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas after a FedEx cargo plane aborted its landing on the same runway that a Southwest Airlines flight had just been cleared to take off from.
Though these events have received considerable attention, there has not been a significant increase in what the F.A.A. calls “runway incursions”— events involving the “incorrect presence” of an aircraft, vehicle or person in a landing or takeoff area.
In 2022, there were 1,732 runway incursions, according to the F.A.A. So far this year, there have been 669. In 2019, before the pandemic curtailed air travel, there were 1,753 runway incursions.
“The vast majority of runway incursions are not serious occurrences,” the F.A.A. said in a statement. “However, reducing the risk of them occurring remains one of the F.A.A.’s highest safety priorities and is a shared responsibility that encompasses pilots, air traffic controllers and airport vehicle drivers.”
The safety summit was one of a series of steps the F.A.A. has taken in recent months to try to address concerns about aviation safety.
In February, Mr. Nolen announced in a “call to action” memo that he was forming a safety review team to examine aviation in the United States, including a focused look on air traffic systems. He said in the memo that he was also asking the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, an aviation safety group within the F.A.A. that works with the industry and regulators, to review data to identify emerging safety trends that needed attention.
The bulletin issued on Wednesday listed recommendations for airlines, including to make sure they adhered to standard procedures and to evaluate their risk mitigation procedures to see if more action is needed.
The F.A.A. said in an emailed statement that it was starting the process to issue a rule that would require cockpit voice recorders to capture 25 hours of information, including communication among the flight crew, engine sounds, alarms and other noises, for the F.A.A. to evaluate. Currently, cockpit voice recorders save only two hours of audio.
“We will also establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to explore how to make greater use of data gathered by the airplane and its systems, including expanded flight data monitoring,” the F.A.A. said. “We welcome any tools or resources Congress wants to provide to help us do this expeditiously.”
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