Buttigieg ‘concerned’ about rise in airline close calls

The summit is intended to convene various parts of the aviation industry, including airlines, airports and associated unions, along with safety regulators, to try to identify and address any potential red flags that may be hiding in the data each airline must report.

Jennifer Homendy, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates all the recent near misses, said each one is complicated by the lack of cockpit voice recordings. Typically, these devices record on a two-hour loop.

“The six from this year all have one thing in common: Cockpit voice recorders were all overwritten,” Homendy said. She also noted that since 2018, her agency has recommended that planes be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder capable of storing at least 25 hours of audio — a standard she said European regulators have had in place for more than one year.

Homendy said the Austin incident and another incident in Burbank, Calif., were particularly alarming cases of planes coming dangerously close to each other. In Burbank, where a Mesa Airlines plane was forced to go around a SkyWest plane as it took off, Homendy said the two planes came within 300 feet of each other.

“Too often we’ve seen the federal government and industry act after an incident, after lives have been lost, once headlines have been made,” Homendy said. “Our entire mission at the NTSB is to prevent the next accident.”

After the roundtable, Homendy told reporters she was frustrated that the FAA has not implemented a number of recommendations her agency has held open — in some cases for years — even as it convenes a safety summit to seek answers about what wrong with the aviation system.

“We’ve essentially given you the roadmap for how you can improve security,” Homendy said, adding that the unimplemented recommendations are “the most frustrating thing for us.” That includes the open recommendation on cockpit voice recorders.

In response, the FAA noted that airlines are free to upgrade their cockpit voice recorders if they wish, and that the FAA is working on a rule that would require it. The FAA also said the NTSB has rated the FAA’s response as “openly acceptable response” to the handful of safety recommendations that Homendy name-checked on Wednesday.

A POLITICO review of data from the Federal Aviation Administration shows that the first two months of 2023 showed an increase in near-collisions involving commercial aircraft across the country. During January and February, commercial jets experienced close calls at a higher rate than the previous five years combined.

Homendy said the NTSB is investigating six close calls on runways across the country since the start of the year. In addition, the NTSB is investigating two botched landings last year and two separate severe turbulence incidents on the same day in Hawaii last December, one incident in which 36 people were injured and another in which a flight came within 800 feet of hitting the Pacific Ocean shortly after. after takeoff.

While all of these incidents remain under NTSB investigation, Homendy said high turnover in the aviation industry since the pandemic, an increasingly congested airspace and the lack of adoption of seven NTSB recommendations related to airport runways are all contributing factors to the troubling pattern of near-collisions that contributed to the need for Wednesday’s summit.

“Today is not an academic exercise,” Nolen said. “We have to take these six near misses and treat them as if they happened, and that’s why we’re here today.”

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