Near-miss aviation incidents to be subject of US Senate hearing

Reuters | November 2, 2023

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing next week on a series of troubling close-call aviation safety incidents that raised questions about Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control operations.

The Nov. 9 aviation subcommittee hearing, which was reported earlier by Reuters, will include FAA Air Traffic Organization head Tim Arel, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Rich Santa, Air Lines Pilots Association President Jason Ambrosi and former FAA administrator Randy Babbitt.

The committee said it will examine “serious close calls across the National Airspace System and related efforts to improve the U.S. aviation system’s safety culture, processes and technologies.”

The NTSB has opened seven investigations into near-miss incidents since January, including some that were potentially catastrophic.

“There have been far too many close calls and near-misses on our runways,” Homendy said on Thursday during a speech.

She noted the seven incidents this year “put more than 1,300 human lives at risk. … These recent incidents must serve as a wake-up call for every single one of us, before something more catastrophic occurs.”

In August, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet came less than 100 feet (30 meters) apart in San Diego. The FAA said an air traffic controller cleared the Cessna to land on a runway even though Southwest Flight 2493 had already been told to taxi onto the same runway.

A similar near-collision occurred in February in Austin, Texas, when a FedEx cargo plane and a Southwest Boeing 737 came within about 115 feet (35 meters) in poor visibility conditions. The controller had cleared the FedEx plane to land and the Southwest plane to depart on the same runway.

The FAA said in March it was taking steps to improve its air traffic control operations, which are short-staffed. “There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls,” the FAA’s Arel told employees.

Homendy reiterated the need for more technology to prevent runway incursions and praised White House near-miss and close- call funding but says more is needed.

The FAA said in September it was seeking recommendations on how it could require cockpit-alerting technologies designed to reduce runway safety events. It also commissioned a safety review team that is expected to release its findings this month.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)


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