By David Shepardson
McLEAN, Virginia (Reuters) -Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Wednesday the United States cannot wait for the next “catastrophic event” to address an uptick in aviation close calls that has sparked alarm.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held a day-long a safety summit on Wednesday outside Washington with airlines, unions, airports and others after numerous recent near-miss incidents on runways have raised safety concerns.
“We can’t wait for the next catastrophic event,” Buttigieg said. “We have seen an uptick in serious close calls that we must address together. Initial information suggests more mistakes than usual are happening across the system.”
The FAA said it had not identified any specific trend or reason to indicate why the rise in close calls was occurring, but added it planned to reexamine runway incursion data to identify underlying factors that led to the incidents and to identify remedies.
In a summary of the meeting, the FAA said it had asked industry to help identify technologies that could enhance the existing equipment capabilities and deploy it to all airports with air traffic control services.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy said the board had previously issued seven recommendations on runway collisions that had not been acted on.
“There have been far too many close calls,” Homendy said at the summit. “These recent incidents must serve as a wake-up call.”
In a “call to action” memo last month, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said he was forming a safety review team. The FAA said the members of that panel and scope of their work would be announced soon.
“In light of the recent close calls and the attention being focused on even routine go-arounds — are we emphasizing efficiency over safety?” he asked on Wednesday. “How much of what we are seeing can be attributed to the sudden resurgence in demand following the pandemic?”
Former NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt, who moderated a safety discussion on Wednesday, compared the near-miss incidents to a person with a fever. “It’s something that signaling us that something is not exactly right.”
The NTSB is investigating a series of serious close calls including a near collision in January between FedEx and Southwest Airlines planes in Austin, Texas, and a runway incursion at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
In January, the FAA halted all departing passenger airline flights for nearly two hours because of a computer outage, the first nationwide ground stop of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Airlines for America Chief Executive Nick Calio said the industry was trying to determine if there was a trend or pattern in the recent incidents.
The United States has not had a major fatal U.S. passenger airline crash since February 2009.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Jamie Freed)