Rise in dangerous airline incidents raise safety concerns

Federal officers have begun investigating a detailed name between planes in Boston, they usually supplied new particulars Thursday a few harrowing incident at an airport in Texas.

The Nationwide Transportation Security Board mentioned it has not decided precisely how shut a FedEx cargo airplane handed excessive of a Southwest Airways jet final month in Austin, Texas, however there was little margin.

“We nonetheless consider the planes had been inside 100 toes of one another,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy mentioned in an interview.

An air site visitors controller had cleared each planes to make use of the identical runway, the NTSB mentioned in a preliminary report. With visibility right down to a quarter-mile due to freezing fog, the FedEx pilots didn’t see the Southwest jet till the final seconds.

The NTSB can be investigating an incident Monday evening at Boston’s Logan Worldwide Airport by which a Learjet pilot who was advised by an air site visitors controller to attend as a substitute started to take off as a JetBlue airplane approached to land on an intersecting runway. The JetBlue pilots pulled up, avoiding a collision.

These and related incidents in New York, California and Hawaii led the top of the Federal Aviation Administration to name for a “security summit” and ignited a debate about whether or not air security is declining or the occasions are simply an uncommon cluster of great shut calls.

“I don’t know that I can say that it’s a development, however these are disturbing as a result of it simply takes one,” Homendy mentioned. “That’s the reason we examine incidents — in order that we will determine issues, particularly once we see traits, and tackle them earlier than they turn out to be a full-blown accident.”

Among the many different current incidents now being investigated:

— Final week pilots of a small airliner aborted their touchdown in Burbank, California, after a controller cleared one other airplane to take off from the identical runway; the NTSB is investigating.

— A United Airways jet crossed a runway at Honolulu Worldwide Airport in entrance of a Cessna cargo airplane that was touchdown on the identical runway on Jan. 23.

— The NTSB took the uncommon step of issuing subpoenas for pilots of an American Airways airplane that crossed a runway {that a} Delta Air Traces jet was utilizing to take off Jan. 13 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport. The American pilots initially refused to take a seat for recorded interviews, however they complied after getting subpoenas, Homendy mentioned.

— Federal officers are taking one other take a look at an incident by which a United Airways jet taking off from Hawaii dove to inside 800 toes of the ocean earlier than recovering. United says pilots of the December flight are getting further coaching.

Apart from the United airplane that descended sharply after takeoff, the opposite incidents had been “runway incursions” by which a airplane wound up on a runway when it was not alleged to be there. A 2017 discussion board convened by the NTSB discovered that the commonest causes of runway incursions had been pilots ignoring orders from air site visitors controllers, or miscommunication between pilots and controllers.

“Runway incursions have all the time been an space of concern, nevertheless it appears to be like worse as a result of the system is so protected,” mentioned John Hansman, an aeronautics professor on the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise. “We luckily don’t have many accidents, so we deal with these danger precursors.”

Pilots are the final line of protection in aviation security. In a number of the current incidents — notably the one in Austin — pilots noticed one thing improper and reacted shortly.

The incidents could put an finish to any chance of easing expertise necessities for newly employed pilots, which is one thing that smaller, regional airways have requested to assist them deal with a pilot scarcity. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the highest job on the FAA, Phillip Washington, mentioned Wednesday that he opposes easing the pilot-qualification requirements.

The shut calls might additionally result in calls for for improved know-how at airports and on board planes. Kennedy airport has ground-surveillance radar designed to forestall runway incursions. It alerted controllers that the American Airways airplane was crossing an lively runway. Solely 35 U.S. airports have that know-how.

Investigators gained’t be capable to hear what pilots had been doing earlier than a lot of the current incidents as a result of the cockpit voice recordings had been erased after two hours of flying. Since 2018, the NTSB has requested FAA to require 25 hours of recording functionality, which might enhance the chances of saving beneficial data.

Moreover the shut calls, there have additionally been a number of current incidents involving extreme turbulence inflicting accidents on planes. In the newest case, a Lufthansa airplane flying from Austin to Germany diverted to Washington Dulles Worldwide Airport on Wednesday evening; seven individuals on board had been damage badly sufficient to go to hospitals. The FAA mentioned it’s investigating.

The shut calls have attracted the eye of lawmakers, who questioned the appearing FAA administrator about them. The official, Billy Nolen, defended the protection of the nation’s air-travel system final month whereas acknowledging the necessity for vigilance.

“We’re experiencing the most secure interval in aviation historical past, however we don’t take that with no consideration,” Nolen advised a Senate committee. “Current occasions remind us that we can’t turn out to be complacent.”

Nolen, like executives of the airline trade, level out that there has not been a deadly crash involving a U.S. airline airplane since 2009, an unprecedented stretch.

Nonetheless, he mentioned on the listening to and in an inside memo, he was forming a “security overview workforce” to look at the aviation system, beginning with a gathering in March “to look at what further actions the aviation group must take to keep up our security report.” Nolen mentioned aviation leaders will look into which steps are working “and why others seem like not as efficient as they as soon as had been.”

The FAA mentioned Thursday that the summit shall be March 15 and embody representatives from industrial aviation, airports, labor and aviation consultants.

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