?The FAA held a Safety Summit on Wednesday, bringing in top leaders in the industry and government officials to examine what the aviation community needs to act on to maintain safety across the country.
Participants included NBAA President and CEO Edward Bolen, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Air Line Pilots Association President Capt. Jason Ambosi, former NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt and the organizer of the event FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen.Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg opened, welcoming the room and noting that U.S. Aviation is still one of the safest modes of transportation and is currently experiencing one of the safest periods in aviation history. There has been an uptick of serious close calls across the country, growing a cause for concern over the level and standard of safety and warranting the need for the summit.
Nolen addressed the crowd with a serious tone. He had called for the summit in light of the string of near misses at airports across the country, like when a plane crossed the runway without ATC clearance at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). He noted that since he announced the need for a summit, there have been more incidents across the system including runways, terminal ramp areas and unruly passenger incidents.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say that, and certainly the traveling public, that these events are concerning," Nolen said. "They are not what we've come to expect during a time of unprecedented safety in the U.S. air transportation."RELATED STORIES:Recent runway incursions cause alarm, stats show they are on the riseReturning to 'gold standard for aviation safety' top priority at Senate committee hearing with FAA's Billy Nolen
The Summit gathered to discuss how to ensure the mistakes and near misses do not escalate. Runway incursions were the lowest they had been in decades but have been steadily rising since 2011. There have been numerous close calls at airports in 2023, which have been highly publicized online and in the media, bringing to light the growing concern over the mistakes within the system. Nolen attended a Senate committee hearing in February to discuss the January NOTAM outage and close calls were a topic of concern for many.
"We're currently enjoying a record level of aviation safety," Homendy said. "That doesn't happen overnight and it certainly doesn't happen by chance. A safety record like ours is the result of years, decades of intentional effort. The critical efforts of everyone in this room, from operators, manufacturers, labor unions, to private aircraft owners and pilots, the FAA, the NTSB and the media. You have all contributed to our reputation as the global gold standard for aviation safety, but we can't take that for granted."NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy
Homendy noted that while it is true that in ten of the last 12 years there have been no airline passenger fatalities, but, "the absence of a fatality or an accident doesn't mean the presence of safety."
The NTSB, as the organization that investigates transportation accidents, is well aware of the fact that despite the absence of airline passenger fatalities, lives are still lost. People are hurt or killed in all aspects of aviation and the goal is always to improve safety and reduce the number to zero. She referred to the summit as a call to action, which meant looking into the near misses and the root cause of the safety problems growing within multiple aspects of the industry.
She said the NTSB is currently investigating six runway incursions that have occurred since January, including an incursion at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) when a landing plane and departing plane overlapped and came within 100 feet of each other, endangering the lives of 131 people on two planes. Two planes at an incursion at the Bob Hope Burbank Airport (BUR) came within 300 feet when one was cleared to takeoff and the other was cleared to land on the same runway.RELATED STORIES:NTSB: Overflight leads to loss of separation in Austin runway incursionBurbank close-call is the latest runway incursion under investigation
She said other investigations involve occurrences that happened prior to January 2023, like two wrong runway landings in June 2022 and two significant events that occurred on the same day in Hawaii in December, one was a turbulence incident that injured 25 and the other was when a plane came within several hundred feet of hitting the Pacific Ocean.
The panelists convened and Sumwalt said that he looked at the situation like the human body having a fever, signaling them to let them know something is not right. Panelists agree that despite the level of safety currently in the industry, the recent problems have signaled that we cannot rest on that gold standard and continue to work to improve. Complacency will lead to catastrophic accidents.
Bolen was among the panelists, representing the general side of aviation. He said the GA community he represents is new but critical to the industry as a whole. For GA and all aviation to grow, he said we need to rely on safety and be perceived to be safe.
"Complacency is our enemy and vigilance is our responsibility," Bolen said. "We have lots of layers of safety. Lots of layers of redundancy. Sometimes those layers of redundancy can allow someone to say it's all ok, I can relax. That's not the way we are. We need to be vigilant. Today is a call to be vigilant."
Panelists noted the challenges faced by the industry, like a pilot shortage and an outdated airspace system. The NOTAM system failed in January, causing the first nationwide outage since 9/11 and bringing to light the need for modernization for the program to prevent future failures.
As many pilots have retirement looming in the next decade, the next generation needs to be trained to take over the industry and do so safely. Many in the industry are calling for extra training, support and a look at more than just flight hours when training pilots. The pilot shortage and fear of an unprepared new wave of pilots calls for increased focus on preparing pilots for a safer air space.RELATED STORIES:Nominee for FAA Administrator faces scrutiny at Senate hearingReturning to 'gold standard for aviation safety' top priority at Senate committee hearing with FAA's Billy NolenAviation leaders call on Congress to do more for FAA
The FAA is up for reauthorization in September and has been scrutinized for the lack of stability within the organization like the lack of a permanent leader for more than a year, since the former leader Steve Dickson resigned in March 2022. Nolen has stood in as acting administrator but the nominee has not been confirmed and recently faced criticism for his lack of aviation experience and alleged legal trouble at a Senate hearing.
The summit was only the beginning. The industry has recognized a need for change and a need to act now to ensure the gold standard that the U.S. air space continues.Watch the full summit here