Close Calls Lead to FAA Safety Summit

In the wake of multiple close calls involving commercial flights, US aviation leaders met on Wednesday to discuss the incidents.



March 16, 2023

DALLAS — In the wake of multiple close calls involving commercial flights, US aviation leaders met on Wednesday to discuss the incidents.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is already investigating six close calls since the start of 2023. Officials have called on Congress to increase the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) budget to improve training, technology, and resources.

The most recent safety summit brought together a panel of experts in the aviation industry to identify commonalities between the close calls and understand the reasoning behind the recent close calls. During the summit, FAA Administrator Billy Nolen and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg stated an “uptick” in close calls in 2023. 

In February, the FAA announced the summit as part of a review of the United States aerospace industry, primarily focusing on culture, structure, systems, and integration of safety efforts.  

The most recent close call occurred on March 6 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) when an American Eagle (AA) aircraft taxied across a runway in the path of a United Airlines (UA) aircraft that had been cleared to take off.

According to NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, the incident was due to differing instructions given by two air traffic controllers. If these instructions had been followed, it would have led to a catastrophic incident.

This close call is one of six in recent months involving commercial aircraft being investigated by the FAA and NTSB. Five close calls occurred at airports, and one occurred over the Pacific Ocean. 

N802NW Delta Airlines Airbus A330-323A333 JFK KFJK. Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways

Too Many Recent Close Calls

In December 2022, a UA flight en route to San Francisco experienced a sudden loss of altitude over the Pacific Ocean. Right after takeoff from Maui, the United Boeing 777 dropped to 775 feet above the water in under 20 seconds. The pilots were able to regain altitude and continue on to San Francisco without any injuries. 

One month later, on January 13, AA crossed an active runway at New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) without clearance from air traffic control. This caused a Delta Air Lines (DL) plane to abort its takeoff. According to the NTSB, the two aircraft were 1,400 feet from each other at the closest point. 

Another close call occurred in January when a UA aircraft crossed a runway at Honolulu airport without air traffic control clearance. A Cessna aircraft was landing on the same runway. According to the FAA, the Cessna stopped around 1,100 feet from the United aircraft. 

On February 4th, a FedEx (FX) landing at Austin Bergstrom Airport (AUS) came within 100 feet of a Southwest Airlines (WN) aircraft taking off from the same runway. According to the FAA, both aircraft received clearance from air traffic control to use the runway. 

Two more close calls occurred in February, including one at Sarasota Airport (SRQ) when an air traffic controller cleared an AA flight to land on the same runway an Air Canada Rouge (AC) plane was cleared to take off from.

The AA flight initiated a go-around, and the two planes were 3,100 from each other. A second close call occurred at Boston Logan Airport (BOS) when a Learjet aircraft took off without clearance from air traffic control as a JetBlue (B6) aircraft was on short final on an intersecting runway.  

Even with all of these close calls, officials have continued to stress the safety of the United States aviation system. Additionally, 45,000 flights take off daily in the United States, and there has not been a fatal commercial plane crash since 2009.

Featured image: Yifei Yu/Airways