FAA issues safety warning to airlines after series of high profile close calls this year between planes landing or taking off
The Federal Aviation Administration published an "aviation safety call to action" on Wednesday.
The bulletin asks airlines to be more vigilant in the wake of six near-accidents since January.
The agency called on carriers to review key items, like the sterile flight deck rule and checklist procedures.
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration published an "aviation safety call to action" asking airlines to heighten vigilance after several recent near-incidents at airports across the US.
In the document, the agency said six "serious runway incursions" have happened since the new year, which means a plane was incorrectly situated on a runway and "a collision was narrowly avoided."
Among these are the near collision between a Delta Boeing 737 and an American Airlines Boeing 777 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, followed by a FedEx Boeing 767 cargo plane that almost landed on top of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet in Austin.
While none of these close calls resulted in tragedy, the FAA is asking airlines to pay closer attention to risk mitigation, saying that although "the overall numbers do not reflect an increase in incidents and occurrences, the potential severity of these events is concerning."
Carriers do this through a federally mandated safety management system, which is designed to detect a safety hazard, asses its risk using collected data and information, and address the concern via a new or changed policy or procedure.
To do this effectively, the FAA says SMS needs to be highly adaptable to change. The agency has encouraged airline management, like chief pilots and safety directors, to review a list of safety items and ensure the objectives are met, even if that means considering added training or amended procedures.
The items include things like adhering to published checklists and air traffic control instructions, reviewing runway safety information, and ensuring pilots and flight attendants understand the "sterile flight deck" rule.
According to the FAA, this rule forbids crews from chatting about anything not related to the operation of an aircraft during critical phases of flight, like takeoff and landing. It also applies to any flight operations occurring below 10,000 feet, except cruise.
Wednesday's bulletin comes a week after the FAA hosted a safety summit to discuss the uptick in near accidents — the first since 2009, which was called after the Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people. Closed-door discussions addressed things like overstressed crews and the need for updated ATC technology, including surface surveillance equipment at airports.
"There is no question that aviation is amazingly safe, but vigilance can never take the day off," FAA acting administrator Billy Nolen said at the event. "We must ask ourselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions, even when we are confident that the system is sound."
In 2022, there were a total of 1,732 runway incursions in the US, according to FAA data, and there have been another 669 so far this year. That is out of an average of 16 million flights handled by the agency per year.
"The fact that these events are so high profile and garnered so much attention means that eyes are really on it and that exposure is a good thing," Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety investigator and associate professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, told Insider.
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