Safety review team calls for ‘urgent action’ after US aviation near-miss incidents

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -An independent safety review team named by the Federal Aviation Administration after a series of close-call air incidents called for “urgent action” and made a series of recommendations on Wednesday to boost safety.

The 52-page report released Wednesday cited air traffic control staffing shortages, technology issues, funding needs and other challenges. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened seven investigations into near-miss incidents since January, including some that were potentially catastrophic.

“The FAA continues to be asked to do more with less in an already strained system, and the series of serious incidents in early 2023 illuminate significant challenges to the provision and safety oversight of air traffic services,” said the report chaired by Michael Huerta, a former FAA administrator, saying “there are no easy, short-term fixes to the challenges in the system.”

The report called for strengthening FAA organizational structures “institutionalizing roles and responsibilities, and advancing a proactive, data-driven safety culture.”

The FAA in September extended cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024, citing staffing shortages. New York Terminal Radar Approach Control staffing is just at 54% of recommended levels.

A government watchdog report said in June critical air traffic facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks to air traffic operations. At many facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.

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.

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 head of the FAA’s air traffic organization told employees.

The FAA said in September it was seeking recommendations on how it could require cockpit-alerting technologies designed to reduce runway safety events.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Louise Heavens and Nick Zieminski)