The FAA has issued a safety alert for airlines and pilots in the wake of the Safety Summit on March 15, where industry leaders and members met to discuss aviation safety after a string of runway incursions and close calls across the country. The alert was issued Wednesday, informing members of the aviation community about the need for continued vigilance and attentive care to mitigating safety risks, applicable to all aircraft operations under Title 14 Parts 91, 91k, 121, 125, 129 and 135.RELATED STORY:FAA panelists say complacency jeopardizes aviation safety
The FAA pointed out several areas of focus in the safety alert for operators (SAFO), like ensuring pilots and flight attendants have the same understanding of what "sterile flight deck" means and the associated risks with superfluous communications at that time. The "sterile flight deck" rule was imposed by the FAA in 1981 after a series of incidents in which flight crews were distracted from their flying duties through non-essential conversations or activities during important parts of the flight. Everyone should also use all available internal communication processes to highlight recent events and issues.
Published processes and procedures like checklists, ATC instructions and internal company procedures should be reinforced. The FAA also recommends encouraging personnel to identify and report safety concerns through voluntary reporting programs, as well as to be aware of how useful the reporting system can be for ensuring safety. Safety Management System principles used to analyze safety data and assess associated risks should be applied. Existing risk mitigations should also be evaluated to determine if it is effectively controlling risk or if further action is required.
The FAA also recommends three other safety alerts are reviewed, for high collision risk during runway crossing, runway incursion preventative actions and flight crew techniques and procedures to enhance taxi, pre-takeoff and after landing safety to reduce the risk of runway incursions.
The SAFO for high collision risk discusses the high risks for a collision in the first two-thirds of an active runway, outlining actions the pilot, vehicle and air tug/towing driver and operator can take to mitigate the risk and maintain safety. The alert for preventative actions against runway incursions outlines the factors to be aware of and focus on to avoid runway incursions, like maintaining situational awareness or communication. The third SAFO to review discusses the importance of crew and flight deck resource management in place to help pilots mitigate outside influences that can lead to an incursion.Category A events are serious incidents where a collision is narrowly avoidedCategory B events are incidents where separation decreases and there is significant potential for a collision
The alert recommends that directors of operations, chief pilots, directors of training, check airmen, directors of safety, program managers, pilots and operators review the highlighted areas of focus and make any necessary changes to procedures or training when applicable.
The SAFO was issued after the Safety Summit, which convened after the acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen issued a call to action in February. The call to action was a response to a series of concerning runway incursions and safety risks in the National Airspace System (NAS). At least six serious runway incursions have been documented since January, including an overflight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) in which a Boeing 767 and Boeing 737 came within 100 feet of each other and an incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) where one plane crossed the runway without ATC clearance. While investigating the JFK incident, the NTSB requested recorded interviews since the CVR recording had been overwritten. The crew refused and the NTSB had to issue subpoenas to get recorded interviews, urging the FAA to reevaluate the requirement for CVR devices on aircraft and extend the time allotted for recording. The FAA made a proposal to change the CVR recording time from two hours to 25 following the summit. RELATED STORIES:NTSB: Overflight leads to loss of separation in Austin runway incursionBurbank close-call is the latest runway incursion under investigationRecent runway incursions cause alarm, stats show they are on the riseRunway incursions have been steadily rising since 2011 after several years of decline. The last fatal runway incursion was on Aug. 27, 2006 when two flights attempted to depart from the same runway and 50 passengers and crew members died, with only a first officer surviving. Multiple incidents have occurred placing two aircraft dangerously close together, in some cases with both planes being cleared to takeoff or land on the same runway or overflight. Incursions are grouped by the seriousness of the incident and how close it came to a full collision occurring. Many of the recent incursions have been serious incidents, warranting concern from members of the industry as well as government officials and the public, as these incursions have been heavily publicized in the media.
While the FAA is up for reauthorization and is still waiting on a permanent leader, the inefficiencies and safety concerns across the NAS have been a hot topic at hearings. The FAA has been without a permanent leader since Steve Dickson resigned in March 2022. On Wednesday, news broke online that the Senate committee indefinitely postponed a vote on nominee Phillip Washington, according to ABC 7 Denver.Nominee Phillip Washington
The safety alert is the latest in the FAA's efforts to improve aviation safety. The summit brought leaders like NBAA President and CEO Edward Bolen, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to the stage to talk about concerns over safety in the industry. While the industry is in one of the safest eras in history, the latest concerns show that there is still a need for change and to act to ensure the gold standard of U.S. aviation safety returns.