Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who convened the hearing as chair of the aviation subcommittee, said these incidents are evidence of a system under stress.
“Our nation faces an aviation safety crisis with near misses occurring too often,” Duckworth said.
The Federal Aviation Administration, airlines and labor unions have been scrambling to respond to the incidents since a series of close calls sounded the alarm earlier this year. Thursday’s hearing brought into sharper focus the risks posed by overworked air traffic controllers, while officials and labor leaders called for more hiring to fill workforce shortages and additional layers of safety. sought new technology to provide But there is probably no quick fix. Training air traffic controllers can take years, and air traffic control agencies struggle to secure funding for technological advancements.
The FAA recorded a total of 23 serious near misses at airports during the October 2022 to September 2023 budget year. Other types of near misses, including midair accidents, are also under scrutiny.
While much of Thursday’s hearing focused on the role of air traffic controllers, there are signs pilots were also at fault in recent incidents. Investigators say several people took off despite being told to wait.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a crash involving two private jets at a Houston airport last month, as well as six other near-miss incidents. No one was injured in either incident, but board chair Jennifer Homendy told senators they saved more than 1,300 lives. placed They were in danger and urgent action was required.
After the hearing, Homendy compared the situation to the early 2000s. Series of near misses linked to air traffic controller fatigue This occurred before the accident that killed 49 people.
“All the red flags are there,” Homendy told reporters. “We are sounding the alarm and we need action. Frankly, we don’t want to hear about any more conferences. We don’t want to hear about conferences. We don’t want to hear about summits. Damn it, do something. Please.”
FAA launches safety ‘call to action’ after recent airport near misses
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says there are 1,000 fewer qualified air traffic controllers working today than there were 10 years ago. As a result, 40% of facilities rely on employees working six-day weeks at least once a month, with some becoming permanent six-day employees, union presidents said. said Rich Santa.
“Air traffic control is already a very stressful profession,” he said. “He works 200 hours a month, which causes a lot of fatigue and creates additional risks.”
The FAA met its goal of hiring 1,500 air traffic controllers this year and aims to hire 1,800 more next year. But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that even if the agency meets its goals, it expects to lose nearly a third of its new employees as training progresses. He added that it will take many years for it to reach its full potential. We have personnel. Senators have proposed building a second training academy to boost employment.
Asked after the hearing whether he was concerned about controllers being required to work, Tim Arrell, director of the FAA’s air traffic control division, said the agency was considering the issue.
“We have negotiated procedures based on human factors research,” Aller said. “We have minimum and maximum working hours between shifts. We always abide by them.”
Homendy said simply following procedures is not enough.
“It may meet the regulations, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK,” she says. “It starts in the evening, then it starts in the morning, then it starts at noon. It affects your circadian rhythm and you feel tired.”
Technology that can detect aircraft at risk of collision at airports and new warning systems on flight decks could provide an additional level of protection.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) highlighted a near miss at Boston Logan International Airport in February. In this incident, the detection system helped the JetBlue pilot avoid a private jet that was crossing the runway. However, this system has not been widely implemented.
“Just like when driving a car, if the driver makes a mistake, the airbag is there as a backup,” Markey said. “That’s something we should definitely talk about.”
The FAA, like other government agencies, is one week away from a potential shutdown. The inspector general will continue to work but will be unpaid until Congress passes a funding package. Training academies in Oklahoma are also scheduled to close, and officials say even a short closure would cause major disruption.
The law authorizing the FAA expires at the end of the year. FAA leaders and lawmakers are both seeking to enact long-term legislation that would allow the agency to make the long-term plans needed to improve technology, but key senators are vying for the role of flight simulators in pilot training. I’m stuck.