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Crew concerns, air traffic strains could be behind near-miss flight incidents at airports

As reports of near-miss incidents pile up at US airports through early 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration is set to hold a summit next week to assess safety risks to travelers.

FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolan wrote in a memo last month on March 15 that “we are experiencing the safest period in aviation history, but we cannot take it lightly.”

In the face of recent events, Nolen wrote, “Now is the time to stare at the data and ask the tough questions.”

Experts say near-misses on runways are more common than with the traveling public. According to FAA data, there have been 613 incidents of runway incursions so far this year, compared to 1,732 in 2022.

While each event is different, experts say there are likely some common underlying factors.

Global air traffic is growing rapidly after the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, North American activity is expected to grow 130.2 percent year-over-year in 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association. % has increased. an industry group.

Many increased flights are being operated and directed by less experienced crews. At the start of the pandemic, carriers laid off staff and many long-serving aviation workers retired, leaving carriers struggling to hire and train thousands of employees as travel demand rose again.

That push has been largely successful. About 522,000 people were working in the air transportation industry as of last January, federal data show, up from about 477,000 in January 2022. requirements in an effort to get more workers onto the runways and into the skies to meet demand.

“We are seeing pressure on the system,” said Hasan Shahidi, president and CEO of the non-profit Flight Safety Foundation, adding “the level of experience is not the same as it was before the pandemic because of the loss of expertise.”

A Southwest spokeswoman said the carrier has not lowered its standards for onboarding pilots and that current and future first-officer candidates must pass all elements of its flight operations training program before being allowed to fly. . IATA did not respond to a request for comment.

Among the most high-profile near-miss incidents this year:

  • On January 13, a Delta Airlines plane had to abort takeoff from JFK International Airport in New York City when an American Airlines plane passed in front of it. The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a subpoena for the pilots of the American Airlines plane.
  • On January 23, a United Airlines 777 jet crashed into the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport improperly crossed a runway as a small, single-engine cargo plane operated by Kamaka Air was landing.
  • On February 4, a FedEx-operated Boeing 767 cargo plane and a Southwest Airlines 737 nearly collided at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.
  • On February 16, an Air Canada flight was cleared for takeoff in Sarasota, NY on the same runway where an American Airlines 737 was cleared to land.
  • On February 27, a JetBlue plane landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport had to take “preventive action” to avoid colliding with a Learjet charter plane that had failed to obey air traffic controllers’ orders.

March also marks the 46th anniversary of the deadliest accident in aviation history, when 583 people were killed at the main airport in Tenerife, Spain, when two planes collided on the runway in 1977.

The accident prompted a series of changes that are common practice today, such as the use of standardized English phrases on communication channels and the implementation of crew resource management – ​​a set of policies that allow the pilot’s commands to be relayed to other crew members in the cockpit licence. Returns to denial if they believe they are vulnerable.

Kathleen Bangs said, “That was a really big thing that helped change safety – that all crew members could feel that they could speak up without the threat of losing their jobs or being reprimanded, or even That can also take control,” said Kathleen Bangs, an aerospace expert and former commercial pilot. “It was a big step forward from the breed of pilots that had been trained in the military or during the war.”

Bangs noted that there has not been a major commercial airline accident in the US since 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 went down en route to Buffalo, NY, killing all 49 passengers and crew aboard.

Bangs said the airlines’ strong safety record since then may have led air crew, especially employees who haven’t worked in the industry during a major incident, to be less wary.

“Safety does not breed vigilance,” she said. “Unfortunately, the flip side is complacency. That’s what we’re seeing — pilots are skimming, controllers are skimming, people aren’t paying attention.



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