Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that federal regulators "take nothing for granted" as he acknowledged an uptick in close-call incidents at airports that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to call for a safety summit.
"While the data are clear that U.S. aviation remains an exceptionally safe mode of travel, whether you compare it to roads, whether you compare it to other places or whether you compare it to other times in our own history, we take nothing for granted, and we are particularly concerned because we have seen an uptick in serious close calls that we must address," Buttigieg said in remarks to open the summit.
"Initial information suggests that more mistakes than usual are happening across the system of runways, at gates when planes are pushing back, in control towers and on flight decks. So, today is about the entire system," Buttigieg said, calling airline safety a key priority for the Biden-Harris administration.
The FAA convened Wednesday's summit to discuss transportation safety and evaluate whether regulations or procedures need to be updated in response to several close calls at airports this year. In a call to action issued in February, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen announced the formation of a safety review team that will examine the U.S. aerospace system’s structure, culture, processes, systems and integration of safety efforts.
FAA INVESTIGATES ANOTHER CLOSE CALL, THIS TIME AT REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT, AHEAD OF SAFETY SUMMIT
"Today's summit is going to be the first in a series of coordinated events and actions, all part of the call to action that we put out last month. That includes an aviation safety info-sharing meeting at the end of the month and a cast meeting on April 6th, all of which will inform the work of our new safety review team," Buttigieg said.
The safety review comes after aviation officials in recent months have documented an increase of events on runways, terminal ramp areas and unruly passenger incidents. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy said the board has investigated six serious runway incursions since January, including one in Austin, Texas, where two aircraft came within 100 feet of each other, putting the lives of 131 people at risk.
NTSB is also investigating two wrong runway landings that happened last June and two significant events that occurred in December on the same day in Hawaii.
These events "continue to defy logic," Nolen said. "I think I speak for all of us when I say that, and certainly the traveling public, which is that these events are concerning. They are not what we've come to expect during at time of unprecedented safety in the U.S. air transportation system."
FAA TO FORM SAFETY REVIEW TEAM FOLLOWING CLOSE CALLS
"We must pay attention to the events of recent months and what the system is trying to tell us," he added.
Officials who spoke at the summit suggested that some of the recent close-call incidents could be attributed to a resurgence of demand for air travel after the COVID pandemic. New workers replacing retired or laid-off employees need adequate training, and some who were unable to work during the pandemic may need retraining, Homendy said.
She added that the NTSB is waiting for airlines to act on seven recommendations on runway collisions that have not been acted upon, the oldest of which dates back more than two decades.
"How many times are we going to have to issue the same recommendation over and over and over again?" she said. "And when we do, and sometimes we get the response that it costs too much … what is too expensive? Think about your loved ones. Do they deserve a price tag?"
DELTA AIR LINES PLANE GOES OFF SYRACUSE AIRPORT TAXIWAY
Though officials shared these concerns and others, Nolen said air transportation remains "incredibly safe." He noted that more than 3.2 million flights have flown in the United States this year, averaging 45,000 flights on a given day and carrying 1.7 million to 2.4 million people.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS
"Our system is incredibly safe, but that is not by accident," Nolen said. "It is because we are willing to stare into everything we see and say, ‘Is there something that we missed?’"