US Airlines Are Having Lots of Close Calls

'New York Times' investigation discoverers nearly 50 last month alone
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2023 11:55 AM CDT
Close Calls With US Airlines Now Have 'Alarming' Regularity
File photo. All is well in this photo, but close calls with US commercial airlines are on the rise.   (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

On the bright side, no US airline has had a fatal air crash since 2009, the longest such streak on record, reports the New York Times. The flip side? Close calls are happening with what the newspaper calls "alarming" regularity. The newspaper's investigation, based on a review of internal FAA records, revealed 46 near-accidents in the last month alone, most of which were not disclosed to the public. In the 12-month span covered by the data, about 300 such close calls involving US commercial airlines were logged. Most occurred near airports, either in the air or on runways.

"Honestly, this stuff scares the crap out of me," one airline captain told NASA in November, after his plane was cleared to land by an air traffic controller but was put on "a collision course" with another passenger plane. The space agency maintains a database of such incidents, also reviewed by the Times. Often, the incidents can be chalked up to human error, and the newspaper says a staffing shortage of air traffic controllers across the nation plays a role in that.

In response to the story, the FAA says in a news release that while the US aviation system is the world's safest, "one close call is too many." Among other things, the agency says it has hired 1,500 new controllers for the 2023 fiscal year and is beefing up existing training and protocols. In a post at the View from the Wing blog, Gary Leff writes that the aviation system "urgently" needs reform. The big fix he recommends is to stop allowing the FAA to regulate itself. Instead, oversight should be provided by another government agency or perhaps a private nonprofit, as is the case in Canada. (More air travel stories.)

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