Aviation leaders representing a broad spectrum of industry activity were told to go back to their worlds and try to identify what they can do to make the system even safer after an FAA-sponsored “safety summit” in Virginia on Wednesday. Speaker after speaker mentioned the current period of remarkable safety for commercial aviation against the backdrop of some potentially catastrophic runway incursions at airports all over the U.S. in the last few months. They followed a period in which 10 of the last 12 years have been free of fatalities and the “close calls” that prompted the summit are a reminder of the continued need for vigilance. “The absence of a fatality or an accident doesn’t mean the presence of safety,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.

The call to action by government representatives was met by a few pointed requests from the groups, who are now being asked to comb the data to see what might point to the uptick in incidents, particularly at airports. Several of those taking part in a panel discussion moderated by former NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt called for a more predictable and reliable funding model for the FAA. They also called for more attention on topping up staff-short sectors while training and refreshing the skills of the gamut of frontline workers who are shaking off the pandemic slump and rebuilding the industry. The only general aviation representative on the panel was NBAA President Ed Bolen, who called the summit “a call to vigilance.”

The meeting was held as Washington media were reporting the seventh major incident involving airliners, this time at Reagan National Airport. The crew of a Republic Airways apparently got mixed up while taxiing and crossed the wrong runway. A United flight was on the roll as the regional crossed the runway and a controller canceled its takeoff clearance. The FAA and NTSB are both investigating.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. A ‘call to vigilance’ is the same as saying ‘just try harder’. What a pointless suggestion….as if anyone would, as part of their normal day, would make a choice to positively put an aircraft (or two) into a situation where a collision might occur…..

    Another way to say this is if people don’t ‘try harder’ then we can now blame the individual person rather than look at whole system safety.

    Professor Sidney Dekker, author of The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error (the best ‘simple to understand’ book on this subject which I have found) has some great short videos on this. Look them up on YouTube.

    He gives a very cogent explanation of why the ‘just try harder’ message is an abrogation of management responsibility. It’s quicker, easier, cheaper and much less painful for the organisation to blame the poor person in the hot seat @ the time an incident.

    As humans we are going to make mistakes. But nobody comes to work to do a bad job (excluding deliberate sabotage – which is a completely different discussion) so the trick is to ask the why – why the mistake happened – rather than the who….

    • Agreed. And “The absence of a fatality or an accident does not mean the presence of safety.” I must have missed something. It kinda does, at least to my 20th century head. I think what she meant was that “…does not mean the absence of danger.” (I am reminded of the traffic safety sign person who told me I couldn’t drive in the lane in which her eyes could clearly see I was driving.) Maybe that’s just semantics but when we use language to communicate semantics are important, plus that sort of statement makes it seem that someone would rather say something that sounds good than actually say something that triggers improvement. Can we really afford that mentality in aviation?

    • My version of the above:

      My CFI, copilot, boss, etc. says “be vigilant!” With guilt implanted I am thinking more about being vigilant, feeling guilty and put-upon, than on my duties as a pilot. My first mistake during preflight, then …

  2. At ORD once, ATC, I mentioned that the traffic was about to over run my ability at that moment. I was told this wise counseling, “if you get behind, work faster!” Actually, yep. (But I’m counting on Bot Gpt to soon monitor all my actions). In fact I just now asked Bot how fast do I need to descend from 11 miles out at 7000′. Then I added at 150kts. In ten seconds I had this. I’m tossing my E6B.
    If you are flying at a speed of 150 knots during the approach, it will affect the rate of descent required to maintain the glide slope angle.

    The rate of descent required to maintain a 3-degree glide slope is calculated using the following formula:

    Descent Rate = (Distance to runway x Tan(Glide Slope Angle)) + (Altitude Above Field / 3)

    Assuming the same values as before (11 miles from the runway and 7,000 feet altitude), we get:

    Descent Rate = (11 x Tan(3)) + (7000 / 3)
    Descent Rate = (11 x 0.0524) + 2333.33
    Descent Rate = 2333.85 feet per minute (rounded to the nearest hundredth)

    However, at a speed of 150 knots, your ground speed will be higher, which means you will cover the same distance to the runway in less time. This means that you will need to increase your descent rate to maintain the 3-degree glide slope. The exact increase in descent rate will depend on your ground speed, but as a rough estimate, you could increase the descent rate by around 5-10% per 10 knots of airspeed increase.

    So, at 150 knots airspeed, you might need to descend at a rate of around 2500 feet per minute to maintain the 3-degree glide slope. However, it’s important to follow your aircraft’s published approach and landing procedures and to adjust your descent rate as necessary based on airspeed and other factors.
    Crazy stuff.

    • If you think that a 2500 fpm rate of descent is required to maintain a 3º glide slope at 150 knots, you might want to hang on to that E6B (or memorize a basic rule of thumb).

      Won’t be too long until most humans are helpless drones, dependent upon AI to think for them. Chat GPT will be quoted a source material for every cause of every nutty group in existence. Aviation, especially recreational flying, might not fare well.

      • I just gave GPT you second paragraph to consider. Notice it refers to itself in providing thought as it being human. “us as humans and we use it”. Crazy.

        As for aviation, AI has already had a significant impact on the industry, particularly in the areas of safety and efficiency. However, recreational flying and other human-driven activities may not necessarily become obsolete because of AI. While AI may be able to assist in certain aspects of these activities, there will always be a demand for human pilots and other skilled professionals who can navigate complex situations and make judgment calls based on their experience and knowledge.

        Overall, while AI is transforming our world in many ways, it is important to remember that it is just a tool, and it is up to us as humans to determine how we use it and what role it plays in our lives.

  3. My simple MENTAL MATH, 150 kts. is 2.5 nm per minute, thus 11 miles will take 4.4 minutes,
    descent rate required is 7000/4.4 (round to 5 for simplicity) equals 1400 fpm.

    My Instructor beat this into my head and I passed it on to all my students.

    • Yea. I got so excited, I didn’t see that it for some reason it tossed in a bogus 3 degree requirement. Back to the drawing boards…..for now.

  4. My earlier Mental Math was a simple calculation to establish a VFR descent rate.

    But adding the glide slope complicates matters, the approximate altitude of the GS is 300′ per nm. therefore at 11 nm its at 3300′ well below the fictitious aircraft at 7000′.

    GS capture is normally from below, so are we looking for a step down???? my 2 cents worth.

    • I think that for now, if GPT speaks, you’d better verify. I don’t know how it came up with the answer it gave me. From 11 out and 7K, the GS would be about 12 degrees and a descent rate of about 1600 fpm at 2 1/2 miles per minute. That’s assuming I’ve let my personal thinker cypher correctly….which is always open for doubt.

  5. Where ever possible stop using active crossing runways for awhile until things settle down. It will delay some flights but maybe that’s what the system needs right now.

  6. It’s all OUR fault. The FAA is not complicit in any way, shape or form. WE have to do better.
    OK … got it! Too bad blathering and bravo sierra can’t be canned and converted to something useful. OH … and a tentative FAA Administrator appointee who doesn’t know a stall from an ADS-B squit oughta be able to fix it all. Geesh !!

    Just last nite I took an hour long webinar on Ramp Inspections. The ASI doing the blathering was both embarrassing and WAY over the top acting like a judge, jury and enforcer. THERE’s your problem … an adversarial FAA who managed to drop the “Promulgation of Aviation” mission statement in the 1994 re-authorization. I view it a bit like the old days when the Captain was god, the FO was a lackey and CRM didn’t exist. Maybe THEY need some CRM?

  7. Cycle of Complacency. Awareness declines over time, resulting on injuries or deaths over time. NBAA President Ed Bolen’s “a call to vigilance” is correct.

  8. While all the issues with ATC and airport ops take the spotlights, Lip service is given to maintenance and the severe technician/skills shortage only compounded by the covid mess. Trying to address this “vigilance” issue, while MRO’s and airlines are trying to be creative, is going to cause a bigger mess in the very near future. So far the FAA never said how many techs/per aircraft a operator must have. This might have to be a reg down the road, similar to hrs limits on flight crews. My NPRM is trying to address the technical skills shortage. All the old timers like me will be out of the system, then what?