In the wake of a series of high-profile near-collisions at US airports – and a terrifying fall from the sky – the Federal Aviation Administration is hosting an urgent safety summit on Wednesday to assess how best to keep US flights safe. how it is controlled. ,
It comes as the FAA is investigating another close call in their backyard. The FAA told NBC News on Tuesday that on March 7 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Republic Airways Flight 4736 crossed a runway without clearance, putting it in the path of another flight – United Airlines Flight 2003 – which was Clearance was given for takeoff.
After clearing the United flight for takeoff, an air traffic controller saw what happened and revoked the clearance.
“United 2003 canceled takeoff clearance,” said the air traffic controller. “Aborted Takeoff, Aborted Takeoff United 2003.”
According to the FAA, the Republic pilot was initially cleared to cross a different runway, but turned onto the wrong taxiway.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, FAA acting administrator Billy Nolan said that although it is safe to fly, officials have become concerned because they “started seeing things that we didn’t expect to see.” Are.”
“We expect every flight to operate as it should,” Nolen said. “And so we’ve had these events over the last few weeks. It gives us a moment to say, let’s stop. Let’s think. Let’s ask ourselves the question: are we missing something?
The full interview will air Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC’s “Nightly News.”
near-collision rattles passengers
Most high-profile of recent incidents: An American Airlines flight crossed an active taxiway at JFK Airport in New York City as a Delta Airlines flight was about to take off, prompting the FAA to issue summonses to American pilots Did; A Learjet 60 took off from Boston’s Logan International Airport without clearance and nearly collided with a landing JetBlue flight; And a FedEx cargo airplane trying to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas narrowly avoided colliding with a Southwest Airlines flight preparing to take off.
In fact, FAA statistics show that there have been fewer incidents in the past six months than in the same period prior.
Still, compared to an average of four to 10 “serious runway events” or near misses a year over the past decade, Nolen said, there have been “more incidents than you would expect to see” in recent months.
This includes a United Airlines flight that took off from Maui, which unexpectedly splashed down within 800 feet of the Pacific Ocean, causing panic.
Nolen said of the summit, “It’s a good opportunity for us to make sure that let’s pressure test our beliefs.”
‘Pressure in the System’
Aviation experts have questioned whether a rapid return to flight in the wake of the pandemic was a factor driving the rise in incidents. While the numbers are only slightly down from February 2020 levels, Nolen acknowledged that the resurgence in air travel has affected the flight landscape.
“We are coming out on the back of this pandemic,” he said. “And…we’re truly seeing demand take off. Suffice it to say flight is back with a vengeance.”
The demand for air travel is coming at a time when the aviation industry is battling a wave of retirements that coincided with the pandemic. Nolen said that while recruiting is happening “aggressively” to refill the positions, the combined weight of increased flight and ongoing recruiting has generated “some pressure in the system.”
Amid record profitability for airlines, Nolen called on carriers to continue creating schedules that “match their capacity and the demands of the market.”
“We want to make sure that we see that happening not only today but over the summer and into the future,” Nolen said.
The nationwide ground halt in January was the ‘right decision’
The FAA is also continuing to address concerns about a temporary nationwide ground stop imposed in January after its Notice to Air Mission (NOTAMS) system went offline.
Nolen said the pause was “the right move in that moment.”
“What the flying public expects is that they are safe, and there’s a level of predictability and we want to give them as much as we can,” he said. “I couldn’t guarantee that was there at that moment. And so we made the right decision to take the timeout in the interest of security, make sure the system was secure.”
But he acknowledged that the FAA must reform a system where there is “a single point of failure.” He praised Congress for its recent pledge to provide funding so the FAA can continue to upgrade its systems.
“What I’ve heard over and over again: ‘We’re ready to help you, we’re ready to give you the resources that you need,'” Nolen said of the hill officers. “And so we’re very grateful for that. Our mission is to make sure we get it right.”
‘Flying is very safe’
Despite the recent crop of troubling incidents, Nolen insisted that flying in the US remains “very safe”, noting that there have been no major fatalities since 2009, when a Continental Airlines subsidiary Colgan Air Flight 3407 – Now part of United Airlines. — went down en route to Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 passengers and crew aboard.
“We have the most secure most complex airspace system in the world and it is very secure,” he said. “It’s very resilient. And at the same time, we’re not always going to take that protection for granted. We’re not going to be complacent.”
But recent episodes still have the attention of security officials, Nolen said.
“When we see some of the incidents that pop up, it takes a while for us to say ‘Hey, is there something we’re missing here?’ Because it’s an incredible record and we want to keep it going.”