The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently taken steps towards mandating the installation of technology aimed at preventing close calls around airports. While many new airline jets already come equipped with this technology, older planes and private aircraft often lack this crucial safety feature. As a result, the FAA has requested an internal advisory panel to provide recommendations on how to require systems that would alert pilots if they are on the wrong runway, taxiway, or if they have chosen a runway that is too short. This move is part of the FAA’s initiative to eliminate serious close calls and improve aviation safety in general.
In recent months, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has initiated investigations into seven incidents involving close calls. Such incidents highlight the urgency of addressing this issue promptly. While aircraft typically have GPS-based systems that warn pilots about potential collisions with the ground or obstacles, additional technology is necessary during taxi, takeoffs, and landings to mitigate the risk of close calls or “runway incursions.” Although some airline planes already possess systems that alert pilots if they are lined up to land on the wrong runway, this technology is not yet mandatory. It is important to note that newer planes are equipped with flight-management systems that include a wrong-runway alert.
Despite the availability of GPS technology, its precision can be limited, especially in cases where parallel runways are located in close proximity, as seen at San Francisco International Airport. The incident involving an Air Canada jet in 2017, which narrowly avoided crashing into other planes after mistaking a taxiway for the runway, highlights the urgency of implementing close call prevention technology. While GPS technology may not always be able to detect landing on the wrong runway, alerts regarding runway safety and pilots landing at the wrong airport are feasible and invaluable, according to Chris Manno, an airline pilot and aviation blogger.
Preliminary reports of close calls have attributed some incidents to pilot error, while others have involved mistakes made by air traffic controllers. For instance, the NTSB stated that a blocked radio transmission led to a close call between Southwest and SkyWest planes at San Diego International Airport in June. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg acknowledged that the number of serious close calls has increased this year and stressed the importance of taking proactive measures to prevent accidents. The FAA’s “safety summit” in March and increased investment in airport infrastructure are evidence of the agency’s commitment to reducing close call incidents.
While industry and government officials often cite the absence of fatal crashes involving U.S. airlines since 2009 as evidence of improved safety, Buttigieg clarifies that these statements should not be misconstrued as complacency. On the contrary, the absence of fatal crashes serves as motivation to maintain and enhance safety measures continuously. Therefore, the FAA and industry stakeholders are actively pursuing any technological advancements that could prevent potential incidents or close calls. The focus remains on identifying and addressing any factors that could pose a threat to aviation safety.
David Boulter, the FAA’s associate administrator for safety, highlights the importance of recognizing that close call prevention technology is just part of the solution. It is crucial to also consider human factors and the role they play in avoiding incidents. This implies that a comprehensive approach to safety is required, one that encompasses both technological advancements and human decision-making. By combining cutting-edge technology with effective pilot training and air traffic control protocols, the aviation industry can significantly reduce the occurrence of close calls and improve overall safety standards.
Equipping planes with close call prevention technology is an essential step towards enhancing aviation safety. The FAA’s move to require systems that alert pilots about potential close call situations demonstrates a commitment to eliminating serious incidents. While GPS-based systems provide a solid foundation for aircraft safety, additional technology during critical stages of flight is necessary to mitigate the risk of runway incursions. Airlines, pilots, and regulators must work together to implement these advanced prevention systems, ensuring the highest level of safety for all passengers and crew members. The continuous pursuit of safety remains an ongoing commitment in the aviation industry, with an unwavering focus on leveraging technology and human factors to prevent close calls in the future.