Key Points:

  • The FAA is organizing "Runway Safety Action Team" meetings at 90 airports in response to a spike in close-call incidents.

  • Seven runway incursion events, including a San Diego near-collision, have been recorded since January.

  • The FAA emphasized the critical importance of vigilance and proactive safety risk mitigation in a March safety alert.

Past Near-Miss incidents heighten the need for enhanced safety protocols, FAA says

WASHINGTON D.C — Responding to a spate of alarming aviation close calls, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced plans to conduct runway safety meetings at 90 airports in the coming weeks. This decision follows a serious near-collision incident in San Diego, where a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet came perilously close to each other.

These safety concerns have prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to launch investigations into seven runway incursion events since the start of the year, with the San Diego incident among them. Echoing these concerns, the FAA previously addressed near-miss incidents in March, urging its personnel to acknowledge the troubling frequency of these events, stating: "There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls."

The series of "Runway Safety Action Team" gatherings planned through September will see diverse stakeholders, including representatives from the FAA's air traffic organization, airline officials, pilots, and airport vehicle operators, collaboratively brainstorm. Their goal will be to pinpoint specific surface safety threats at individual airports and formulate strategies to counteract or eliminate such hazards.

Amid these concerns, the FAA is currently operating without a permanent leader. The agency has been leaderless since April 2022. President Biden's chosen candidate, Phil Washington, withdrew his nomination in March, leaving the position vacant. In the interim, Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg has taken on dual responsibilities, overseeing the FAA in an acting capacity alongside her regular duties at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Providing more insight into the recent San Diego incident, the FAA's preliminary findings revealed that an air traffic controller at San Diego International Airport erroneously granted landing clearance to the Cessna. This misstep occurred despite Southwest Airlines Flight 2493 being already instructed to enter the same runway and stand by for further departure guidance.

In a comparable incident earlier this year, a FedEx cargo plane and a Southwest Boeing 737 in Austin, Texas, narrowly avoided a collision in conditions of limited visibility. A clearance miscommunication resulted in both planes being on the runway at the same time, with a mere 115 feet separating them.

To underscore the gravity of these events, the FAA convened a safety summit and dispatched a safety alert in March. Addressing airlines, pilots, and other aviation personnel, the FAA emphasized the imperative of unwavering vigilance and diligent risk management to ensure passenger and crew safety.