The New York Times explores harrowing stories about recent airplane near-miss “close calls” on U.S. runways:
The incidents — highlighted in preliminary F.A.A. safety reports but not publicly disclosed — were among a flurry of at least 46 close calls involving commercial airlines last month alone… While there have been no major U.S. plane crashes in more than a decade, potentially dangerous incidents are occurring far more frequently than almost anyone realizes — a sign of what many insiders describe as a safety net under mounting stress. So far this year, close calls involving commercial airlines have been happening, on average, multiple times a week, according to a Times analysis of internal F.A.A. records, as well as thousands of pages of federal safety reports and interviews with more than 50 current and former pilots, air traffic controllers and federal officials.
The incidents often occur at or near airports and are the result of human error, the agency’s internal records show… The close calls have involved all major U.S. airlines and have happened nationwide… In addition to the F.A.A. records, The Times analyzed a database maintained by NASA that contains confidential safety reports filed by pilots, air traffic controllers and others in aviation. The analysis identified a similar phenomenon: In the most recent 12-month period for which data was available, there were about 300 accounts of near collisions involving commercial airlines… One problem is that despite repeated recommendations from safety authorities, the vast majority of U.S. airports have not installed warning systems to help prevent collisions on runways.
But the most acute challenge, The Times found, is that the nation’s air traffic control facilities are chronically understaffed. While the lack of controllers is no secret — the Biden administration is seeking funding to hire and train more — the shortages are more severe and are leading to more dangerous situations than previously known. As of May, only three of the 313 air traffic facilities nationwide had enough controllers to meet targets set by the F.A.A. and the union representing controllers, The Times found. Many controllers are required to work six-day weeks and a schedule so fatiguing that multiple federal agencies have warned that it can impede controllers’ abilities to do their jobs properly.