In an exclusive interview on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said the sharp increase in incidents are among the things “that we don’t expect to see.”
Post-Pandemic Demand, Lack of Workers Among Reasons for Air Travel Pressure
With the COVID-19 pandemic ending and travel rules easing, flyers are returning in droves to the airport. However, as more flights depart airports, everyone from the gate agents to air traffic controllers are feeling the pressure.
Some of the more recent near-collision incidents recently recorded include an American Airlines flight crossing in front of a Delta Air Lines flight preparing for takeoff at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York; a FedEx flight landing at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) just missing a Southwest Airlines flight preparing to depart, and a United Airlines flight aborting a takeoff when a Republic Airways aircraft crossed their runway without clearance.
“We expect every flight to operate as it should,” Nolen told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. “And so we’ve had these events over the past few weeks. That gives us a moment to say, Let’s stop. Let’s reflect. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Are we missing anything?”
One of the reasons for the additional problems could be the lack of manpower caused by the pandemic. With employees leaving both the FAA and airlines by choice, including retirement, hiring to get back to full staff has been slow on all sides. Nolen admitted that the increased travel demand combined with slow hiring is causing “some pressures in the system,” but the FAA is hiring “aggressively” to bring their numbers up.
Another pressure in the system continues to be aviation operations. After the NOTAM system went down in January 2023 causing a nationwide ground stop, Nolen said pausing flights was the right thing to do, but more needs to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. In the same interview, Nolen called on the airlines to operate schedules that “match their capability and demands of the market.”
Aviation Remains Safe, Despite High Profile Events
Even though there were several high profile events in the opening months of 2023, Nolen emphasized that flying in the United States remain safe. Citing data showing the number of near-miss incidents is down compared to the preceding six months, the acting administrator notes that there hasn’t been a major fatality event in the U.S. since 2009.
“We have the safest most complex Airspace System in the world and it is very safe,” Nolen told NBC News. “It is very resilient. And with that, we will continue always to never take that safety for granted. We will not become complacent.”
Source: frugal travel guy