On Thursday, lawmakers and aviation experts gathered for a hearing to address a series of aviation incidents that have raised concerns about the FAA’s air traffic control arm and overall safety.
The Nov. 9 hearing included testimony from National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, FAA Air Traffic Organization Chief Operating Officer Tim Arel, National Air Traffic Controller Association President Rich Santa, Air Line Pilots Association Capt. Jason Ambrosi, and former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
During her opening remarks, Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, called the recent near misses abnormal, saying, “They are a warning that our aviation system is under stress.”
Homendy reiterated that sentiment in her testimony and highlighted the uptick in runway incursions over the last year. In fiscal year 2023, there were 23 serious runway incursions, up from 16 in 2022 and 11 from a decade ago. She stated the NTSB has opened investigations into seven incidents this year alone noting that in half, the aircraft came within several hundred feet of each other.
“In the wake of the pandemic, we’re experiencing a massive resurgence of air traffic. We’re also seeing staffing shortages; fatigue; distraction; deviations from Federal Aviation Regulations; and a lack of meaningful, value added training as the FAA and industry rely more and more on computer-based training and the issuance of bulletins as substitutes for hands-on training,” wrote Homendy in her testimony.
Thursday’s hearing also stressed the need for proper staffing and rest for air traffic controllers who are often working overtime shifts and six-day weeks. Santa’s testimony emphasized there are roughly 1,000 fewer Certified Professional Controllers (CPC) than there were a decade ago, saying that continuing to follow the FAA’s flawed controller staffing model would be “problematic” and only exacerbate a downward trend.
Both lawmakers and witnesses agreed on the need to pass a long-term FAA reauthorization bill, which includes $18.2 billion in ground radar and electronic technology that allows controllers to track surface movement of aircraft and vehicles.