A group of outside experts appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday called for “urgent action” to address safety risks in the country’s aviation system, highlighting issues such as staffing shortages among air traffic controllers and outdated technology. .
The FAA announced the formation of the groupthe National Airspace System Safety Review Team in April after a series of difficult situations at airports across the country, and the panel issued a 52 page report on Wednesday presenting his conclusions.
In addition to calling on the FAA to address the shortage of air traffic controllers and improve its outdated technology, the report also recommended changes to how the agency is funded, such as protecting it more broadly from government shutdowns.
“The current erosion of the safety margin in the NAS caused by the confluence of these challenges is making the current level of safety unsustainable,” the report says, referring to what is known as the National Airspace System.
The think tank was led by Michael P. Huerta, who served as FAA administrator under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump. It also included other former federal officials and former union leaders.
“There are no easy short-term solutions to address many of these challenges,” Huerta told reporters Wednesday. “Addressing risk in the NAS requires the FAA, the administration, Congress and others across the industry to work together collaboratively.”
New York Times investigations published in August and October revealed how the country’s vaunted aviation security system is under increasing strain. The Times found that incidents involving commercial airlines had occurred, on average, several times a week.
The severe shortage of air traffic controllers (The Times found that 99 percent of the country’s air traffic control facilities were understaffed) has been a major factor.
The report released Wednesday also warned of the risks posed by outdated technology. In January, an FAA system outage grounded flights across the country and caused a wave of delays and cancellations for travelers.
“The age and condition of FAA facilities and equipment are raising system risk to unsustainable levels, even before considering efficiency losses due to outdated technology,” the report says.
The agency has said it has taken steps to reduce the risk of accidents at airports, such as providing funding to reconfigure taxiways and improve runway lighting.
“The FAA welcomes the independent Safety Review Team’s report and we will thoroughly review the recommendations,” the agency’s new administrator, Michael G. Whitaker, whom the Senate confirmed last month, said in a statement. “We appreciate the team’s time and expertise in helping us reach our goal of zero serious incidents.”
Near misses have also drawn the attention of Congress. A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the topic last week, and among the witnesses was Jennifer L. Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating a series of close calls.
“While these events are incredibly rare, our security system is showing clear signs of strain that we cannot ignore,” Ms Homendy said.