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The Alarming Rise of Near-Collisions Among Airlines

The Alarming Rise of Near-Collisions Among Airlines

  Recent close calls in aviation are giving officials reason for concern, with one incident involving Mesa Airlines plane having to abandon its landing at Hollywood Burbank Airport due to air traffic controllers allowing a SkyWest jet take off on the same runway. 1. Runway Incursions at JFK Airplanes frequently come perilously close to colliding on runways at airports all across the nation, coming dangerously close on runways at airports nationwide. Not only is this something we could have avoided with greater awareness; on occasions planes have actually collided and caused more damage than is acceptable according to FAA regulations. Recent reports of planes coming dangerously close on runways in New York, Texas, Boston and Hawaii have caused alarm. Some may simply reflect miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers while other seem to indicate more systemic issues within the industry. Recently at JFK Airport in Queens, a Delta passenger plane collided with an American Airlines cargo jet at JFK Airport. While taxiing down one runway, air traffic control cancelled out Delta flight's takeoff clearance; both planes ultimately came to rest about 1,000 feet apart. LiveATC analysis indicates that the problem began with American Airlines pilots expecting their next instruction: "American 106 Heavy, cross runway 31 Left at Kilo." Instead, they received clearance to cross another runway: Taxiway J. The pilots of their AA aircraft ultimately followed this instruction but only after Delta plane had already crossed Taxiway J and begun its turn onto Runway 4L. No one was injured in either incident. But these events serve as a stark reminder that tragedy lurks just over the horizon when we fail to follow aviation protocol and stay alert in flight. The Allied Pilots Association announced that American Airlines pilots who flew the jet that came within 1,000 feet of Delta plane will comply with a subpoena issued by the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation, testifying before its board and seeking answers for what went wrong and how such incidents can be avoided in future. 2. Runway Incursions at Dulles The FAA says it is cognizant of an increasing number of near-miss incidents at busy airports and is conducting a detailed review to identify their root cause. They have also increased their focus on using runway safety technologies like Honeywell Runway Awareness and Advisory System that warn pilots when approaching active runways for taxiing across them, and are reviewing pilot training programs to reflect this new technology. Reports of nail-biting close calls have raised grave concerns for aviation's safety. On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg convened an aviation safety summit bringing together airlines, air traffic controllers and airports; his message being we must take proactive measures before another "catastrophic event" happens to take action now. FAA spokeswoman Heather Wood revealed that several potential causes have been identified for the rise in close calls, including more incidents of planes taking off and landing simultaneously, more newer pilots making mistakes and large turnover among aviation employees as many veteran pilots and air traffic controllers took early retirement due to pandemic illness; leaving younger workers without as much experience. Even with an increased rate of near misses, most flights remain trouble-free. Yet reports of planes coming dangerously close together on runways in New York, Texas, Boston and Hawaii has raised serious doubts as to the effectiveness of our current system. At times, planes come close to collision when they veer onto the wrong side of a runway or taxiway - this phenomenon is known as runway incursion and more common than you'd think; according to FAA data from 2017 alone, close calls with aircraft on their wrong sides have occurred nearly 700 times! Some incidents result from pilots mistakingnly believing they have received approval to take off, when in reality they have not; others occur because an aircraft is in an incorrect position as it prepares to takeoff or land. Dulles Airport, as one of the busiest business aviation airports in the country, can present especially dangerous problems. Dulles serves both commercial airline passenger operations as well as general aviation planes flying to and from it, including many general aviation flights that fly directly into its runways. Recently at Dulles, United flight rejected takeoff when within 1.5 miles from another SkyWest plane taxiing across a long runway - both pilots managed to escape without injury during a NTSB investigation at this airport. 3. Runway Incursions at Reagan National The FAA is facing an unprecedented problem: planes are coming dangerously close to each other at U.S. airports. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a near-collision at Reagan National, while the FAA convened an "safety summit" this week bringing together airlines, unions, airports and other stakeholders to explore what's causing it. Recently, reports of close calls at JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports had remained stable; but this year they've experienced an unprecedented surge. Just in the first quarter alone there were nearly 700 runway incursions reported to the FAA -- up from less than 1,700 reported last year and well over 1,700 the year before that! The problem appears to be focused at three major airports serving New York and its surrounding regions: JFK has seen runway incursions almost quadruple this year while those at Newark and LaGuardia nearly quadrupled; experts speculate this may be caused by multiple factors. The FAA is currently conducting investigations as to why such rampant issues exist; Hassan Shahidi, an aviation expert, emphasizes the importance of pilots and air traffic controllers adhering to standard operating procedures (SOP). If they don't, he says, they could put themselves in harm's way and incur serious fines. SOP are there for a reason. "They work." But it could also be that there are other issues at play here, such as inadequate pilot training or communication difficulties with air traffic control, or perhaps something is amiss with radar systems that help avoid runway collisions or ground incidents. At Reagan National Airport, an incident occurred whereby a Republic Airways plane turned onto the wrong taxiway and crossed an active runway that air traffic control had approved for takeoff. At its upcoming summit, the FAA will examine which accident mitigation measures have proven ineffective and request that their Commercial Aviation Safety Team review runway incursion data to look for similar incidents that resemble recent ones. They may even look into adding alert systems to plane displays which warn them when approaching runways that are in use or potentially hazardous for landing. 4. Runway Incursions at Newark FAA data obtained by WABC shows a sharp rise in near misses at New York airports since 2007-- planes coming within several hundred feet of each other on runways at this busiest hub of aviation activity. Yesterday, the FAA convened a safety summit to examine why there have been multiple high-profile instances of planes getting too close together. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged air carriers and the FAA to find out why planes came close to colliding on runways recently. One incident took place last month at Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Texas when a FedEx cargo jet taxied across a runway while Southwest Airlines' 737 took off, interfering with their takeoff roll. On Monday at Boston Logan, Delta attempted to take off from an incorrect runway, crossing into the path of JetBlue flight that was approaching landing. Both instances occurred just hundreds of feet apart - less than two-thirds of a football field vertically and approximately a mile apart. No injuries were reported but this raises serious safety issues at U.S. airports. POLITICO conducted an in-depth analysis of FAA records to discover that runway incursions, or defined as aircraft or vehicles entering restricted areas on runways, have remained steady nationally while increasing significantly at Newark. Furthermore, most runway accidents and deaths happen during landing and takeoff phases when planes are closest together. Arlene Salac of the FAA stated that steps have been taken to mitigate runway incursions. At Newark Liberty International Airport, Runway 29 no longer receives arrivals when flights are departing on Runway 4R; instead planes have been switched over when an alternative runway becomes available. Salac also mentioned new regulations mandating cockpit voice recorders be installed with 25 hours of audio storage capacity to record cockpit crew communications as well as engine sounds, beeps, and alarms. The FAA recently implemented measures requiring planes to send "go around" instructions directly to air traffic controllers as well as pilots in towers at each runway, and is working on developing a system to notify passengers when planes cross their paths.

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