White House to announce new funding to reduce aviation close calls

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Friday will announce $26 million in new funding to improve U.S. aviation safety after a series of potentially catastrophic near-miss incidents this year, officials told Reuters.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will spend $10 million to improve controller situational awareness and reduce runway close calls by deploying surface surveillance systems to additional airports.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating seven runway incursion events since January.

Officials said the FAA will also spend $8 million to expand its terminal automation system to prevent incorrect runway landings that can result in close calls.

It will spend another $8 million to deploy a runway incursion memory aid device used by controllers for occupied and closed runways to 72 additional airports. The device provides visual and audible alerts to remind controllers to check the runway before issuing clearances.

On Thursday, the White House nominated Michael Whitaker, a former deputy FAA administrator, to serve as the head of the FAA. The department has been without a permanent administrator since April 2022.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy in May said the United States needed to invest more in aviation safety technology solutions after a series of close-call incidents this year. There was a near collision just last month between a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet in San Diego.

Technology systems that help detect aircraft and ground vehicles at airports to prevent runway incursion are currently used at 43 U.S. airports. That technology needs to be upgraded and extended to all other commercial airports she said. The United States has about 500 commercial airports.

The White House on Friday also called on Congress for new money for aviation safety. The current FAA authorization expires on Sept. 30.

A computer system outage of a pilot alerting database in January prompted the FAA to halt departing flights for about two hours, the first nationwide ground stop since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, disrupting more than 11,000 U.S. flights.

The FAA is also facing a shortage of air traffic controllers and last month cited the issue in agreeing to extend temporary cuts to minimum flight requirements at some congested airports.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)