Recent plane near-collisions on runways have raised red flags among lawmakers crafting a major US aviation policy bill.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating two near-misses in recent weeks on runways at airports in New York and Texas. Lawmakers weighed how to respond at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s first hearing of the year to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday.
“Our aviation system is clearly in need of some urgent attention,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said about the incidents.
In January, an American Airlines Group Inc. jet went across a runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a Delta Air Lines Inc. plane accelerated for takeoff, causing a near-miss incident. Then, a FedEx Corp. cargo jet came within 100 feet of colliding with a Southwest Airlines Co. plane early on Feb. 4 in Austin, Texas.
Lawmakers are expected to consider technology upgrades and funding levels for the FAA and its air traffic controllers as part of the reauthorization bill.
“No one takes it for granted that these are serious events,” David Boulter, acting associate administrator for aviation safety at FAA, said at the hearing. “We need to double down on what is it that’s causing these, what have we missed in our voluntary systems, what have we missed in our data that would cause these.”
Rep. Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.) said it was fortunate in New York that multiple layers of safety systems allowed a controller to alert an emergency call. He said “the fact that we are talking about a close call and not a disaster demonstrates the success” of the systems, and asked whether the FAA has the funding to maintain the same level of safety.
Boulter said President Joe Biden’s budget supports aviation safety, and the agency could provide more information on funding for safety systems.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the recent incidents, as well as the FAA’s aging technology, which led to a ground stop of all flights last month. Committee ranking member Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) said more needs to be done to “strengthen the IT infrastructure that supports the national airspace system.”
“You look at what’s happening in the news today, whether it’s incursions or close calls, you’ve seen the failure of the air traffic control system, you’ve seen problems with airports and airlines information systems,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee. “We need to all be very concerned about what’s going on.”