An independent safety review team named by the Federal Aviation Administration said there had been several close-call air incidents at US airports in recent months, prompting calls for “urgent action” to be taken.
The review team released a 52-page report on Wednesday, which cited air traffic control staffing shortages, technology issues, and funding needs as the reasons for the incidents.
“The FAA continues to be asked to do more with less in an already strained system, and the series of serious incidents in early 2023 illuminate significant challenges to the provision and safety oversight of air traffic services,” said the report chaired by Michael Huerta, a former FAA administrator, saying “there are no easy, short-term fixes to the challenges in the system.”
The report called for strengthening FAA organisational structures “institutionalising roles and responsibilities, and advancing a proactive, data-driven safety culture.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has opened seven investigations into near-miss incidents since January, including some that were potentially catastrophic.
It comes after the FAA said it was reducing flights in August in the area around New York City because of a lack of staffing.
The cut was extended in September to last until October 2024.
“Due to the availability of staff tonight, the FAA must reduce the flow of aircraft in certain airspace serving New York City to maintain safety,” the FAA said in a statement at the time.
New York Terminal Radar Approach Control staffing is at just 54 per cent of recommended levels.
A government watchdog report said in June that critical air traffic facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks to air traffic operations. At many facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.
An August FAA report found that close calls are happening with increasing frequency in the US, and although there have been no major US plane crashes in more than 10 years, potentially dangerous encounters are happening more frequently.
The report found commercial airlines experienced at least 46 close-call incidents in July, which occurred multiple times a week, and include every US airline and are occurring across the country.
In August, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet came less than 100 feet (30 meters) apart in San Diego. The FAA said an air traffic controller cleared the Cessna to land on a runway even though Southwest Flight 2493 had already been told to taxi onto the same runway.
The FAA said in March it was taking steps to improve its air traffic control operations, which are short-staffed. “There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls,” the head of the FAA’s air traffic organisation told employees.