Federal Aviation Administration acting administrator Billy Nolen told industry leaders on Tuesday that there needs to be a new goal of eliminating close calls in the U.S. aviation system.
During the annual InfoShare meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, Nolen said the industry has reduced the risk of fatalities in U.S. commercial aviation by 95% over the past 25 years.
However, "it’s no longer good enough to say that zero is the only acceptable number for fatal accidents," Nolen said. "Going forward, zero has to be the only acceptable number for serious incidents and close calls."
The comments come as government officials continue to investigate the string of close calls that unfolded since January. Nolen announced in February that he was forming a safety review team to look into the aviation system following the repeated close calls, including incidents involving aircraft at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, in Austin, Texas, and off the coast of Hawaii.
Nolen said there are various "new and different stressors affecting the system" currently. Although air travel is coming back in a big way, Nolen said the "long layoff, coupled with the increased technical nature of our systems, might have caused some professionals to lose some of that muscle memory."
Additionally, he said the system is contending with the loss of experience given that the pandemic forced many seasoned professionals into retirement early.
To help make the system even safer, Nolen said more types of data need to be shared, in greater amounts and at a faster rate than ever before, so the aviation community can "become predictive, not just preventive."
"When we can access safety data in real-time, and access multiple sets of data, we have a more accurate picture of how safe the system actually is," he said.
Currently, "when the safety data gets through all of the gatekeepers, it could be weeks before the system knows about it. By that time, the risk picture could have changed," Nolen added.
He also stressed that everyone in the industry must be engaged in this effort and to keep in mind that "people who can help us the most, may not be in our industry."
Nolen, a pilot who has held safety jobs at three airlines and the FAA, issued such recommendations during a safety summit earlier this month.
Aside from trying to reassure Americans that air travel is safe despite a surge in close calls between planes this year, the agency is also struggling with aging technology that failed in January, briefly canceling all takeoffs around the country.
"Our goal must be to build an aerospace system that is so resilient, that heroic intervention is almost never necessary," Nolen added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.