The nation’s top accident investigator said Thursday that an increase in crashes between planes at U.S. airports this year is a “clear warning sign” that the aviation system is under strain.
“While these events are incredibly rare, our safety system is showing clear signs of strain that we cannot ignore,” Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a Senate panel Thursday.
Homendy warned that air traffic and staff shortages have increased since the pandemic. He said there has been a “significant lack of training” (and increased reliance on computer-based instruction) by the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines. She said technological improvements could help prevent what aviation experts call “runway incursions.”
Representatives of pilot and air traffic controller unions and a former head of the Federal Aviation Administration were to testify at the same hearing.
The FAA said earlier this week that it will hold meetings at 16 airports before the end of the year to develop plans to identify and reduce safety risks.
Airports hosting meetings with airlines, pilots and ground crew drivers include Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Logan International Airport in Boston. These meetings are in addition to the 90 that the FAA announced in August.
There have been many incidents in recent months, with the most terrifying occurring in February in Austin, Texas. During poor visibility in the early morning hours, a FedEx cargo plane preparing to land flew over the top of a Southwest Airlines plane that was taking off. The NTSB has estimated that they came within about 100 feet of crashing.
An air traffic controller had authorized both planes to use the same runway.
In other recent incidents, pilots appeared to be to blame.
The NTSB is investigating about a half-dozen near misses this year, and the FAA says there were 23 of the most serious classes of near misses in the last fiscal year, up from 16 the year before and 11 ago. one of each. Some estimates suggest those figures vastly underestimate those incidents.
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