FAA holding safety summit after spate of near-collisions at airports

▶ Watch Video: FAA hosts safety summit after several close calls at major airports

The Federal Aviation Administration is hosting a safety summit Wednesday to address a recent string of close calls on airport runways. The panel brings together participants from various segments of the country’s aviation system to gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of the near-collisions.

“I look at them like a fever in a human body and that it is signaling that something is not right,” said Robert Sumwalt, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board and a CBS News transportation safety analyst.

“I think these are very much precursor events that could be signaling that there’s something more serious in the system,” said Sumwalt, who will be a moderator at the summit.

At Reagan National Airport in Virginia last week, a United Airlines flight heading to Chicago and an American Airlines regional jet bound for Raleigh nearly collided. The incident was caused by conflicting instructions from separate air traffic controllers. 

It is the seventh close call the National Transportation Safety Board is looking into this year. 

According to airline captain Laura Einsetler, the incidents may be linked to post-pandemic effects, including a surge in hiring by airlines and the FAA, as well as a sharp rise in travel demand.

“We’re now quickly hiring a lot of new people into the industry: air traffic control, maintenance pilots, everything. So it’s taking time to get everyone up to speed and that’s some of what we’re seeing right now,” Einsetler said. 

The NTSB is searching for commonalities that may have contributed to the incidents, such as communication breakdowns, situational awareness lapses and inadequate training. The board has suggested implementing safety technology to prevent such incidents, but as of now, it has only been installed in approximately 40 airports nationwide.

The airlines involved in the recent incident at Reagan have declined to comment, deferring the matter to investigators. 

While safety experts, pilots and the FAA maintain that flying is safe, they stress the need to make it even safer.    

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