Buttigieg says recent U.S. aviation close calls ‘deeply troubling’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at O'Hare airport in Chicago

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Tuesday that a series of aviation close calls was “deeply troubling and deserve our immediate attention.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is holding a safety summit on Wednesday with airlines, unions, airports and other industry segments after numerous recent near-miss incidents have raised safety concerns.

“While there is no apparent single cause for recent close calls and investigations are ongoing, I want to make sure we are doing everything we can, at every level, to prevent them,” Buttigieg wrote in a letter to participants at the planned safety summit.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen in a “call to action” memo last month said he was forming a safety review team to “examine the U.S. aerospace system’s structure, culture, processes, systems, and integration of safety efforts.”

Nolen told reporters last week that he “wanted to assure the American public” that the U.S. aviation system is safe but wants to make sure the FAA is not missing any warning signs.

“Are there any dots that we need to connect?” Nolen said, saying the FAA has not uncovered any systemic issues.

Former Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak said in a Washington Post opinion piece on Tuesday the incidents should raise alarms. “We cannot wait for our aging and understaffed aviation infrastructure to break, and a tragedy to occur, to demand action,” he wrote.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating a series of serious close calls including a near collision in January between FedEx and Southwest Airlines planes in Austin, Texas, and a runway incursion at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

On Tuesday, the NTSB said it would investigate a Dec. 18 incident in which a United Airlines Boeing 777 jet lost significant altitude before recovering shortly after departing Kahului, Hawaii.

Buttigieg said it “is our responsibility to take a hard look at all factors and determine what steps are needed to reinforce safety culture and strengthen safety practices, especially given significant disruptions and changes to the aviation sector coming out of a global pandemic.”

In January, the FAA halted all departing passenger airline flights for nearly two hours because of a computer outage, the first nationwide ground stop of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The United States has not had a major fatal U.S. passenger airline crash since February 2009.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by Matthew Lewis)