FAA Reauthorization Act puts emphasis on reducing close calls of plane collisions

A measure is working through U.S. Congress that would increase funding and staffing to help avoid close calls in the air.
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 6:25 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Human error and a serious staffing shortage among air traffic controllers are to blame for many of the close calls of plane collisions at airports across the country. As we’ve reported, these near-misses are happening more often than you may realize and the FAA Reauthorization Act making its way through Congress right now aims to address this issue head-on.

“We need to do something about it. The biggest issue is personnel. We need more personnel, more air traffic controllers,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, a Democrat representing Arizona’s 4th District.

Every five years, the FAA Reauthorization Act renews the agency’s funding and is a massive piece of legislation. This time, there is a bigger emphasis on reducing the number of near-plane collisions by increasing the number of air traffic controllers and improving training and technology.

Close calls where planes nearly hit mid-air are a growing concern nationwide, but the problem is not new. So far this summer, there’s been at least three of these almost-aerial crashes in Arizona. “I’m a member of Congress, so my mind is to do something about it, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Rep. Stanton. Rep. Stanton serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He helped advance the reauthorization bill that’s currently awaiting a Senate vote.

Stanton hopes addressing the staffing shortage will reduce near-collisions. “More air traffic controllers, minimum staffing standards for our air traffic controllers, better training for the folks that become air traffic controllers because a lot of this has to do with the retirements that are happening,” he said.

Two of the recent near-misses in Arizona were at Phoenix Sky Harbor. There was one in June involving two American Airlines flights and a private medical transport plane during landing. At one point, the planes were only 1.6 miles apart.

A New York Times investigation found the other situation happened in August when an American Airlines plane came within 300 feet of a Southwest Airlines flight during takeoff. There was also one in Tucson in July where an Alaskan Air pilot avoided disaster after an automated alert showed a sky-diving plane was too close.

The FAA has data dating back a decade for what they call “runway incursions.” These incidents can range from serious near-collisions to situations with no immediate danger, and more than a thousand happen each year.

Meanwhile, major airports are busier than ever. “We want to make sure that we do have the staffing, the personnel, the training, and the technology to make sure it’s as safe as possible and that’s what we’re working on,” said Rep. Stanton. The U.S. aviation system is considered the safest in the world, with no deadly crashes in the last 14 years. But the FAA says one close call is too many. The agency has invested millions at airports across the country to reduce these near-misses.

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