IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

FAA issues safety call to action after string of narrowly avoided flight disasters

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said he will form a safety review team to address safety risks and concerns, saying, "we must not become complacent."
Billy Nolen during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington
Billy Nolen at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday in Washington. Anna Rose Layden / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a “safety call to action” and will form a safety review team after a string of concerning airline incidents. 

"We are experiencing the safest period in aviation history, but we cannot take this for granted," acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a memo released Tuesday. "Recent events remind us that we must not become complacent."

The memo was an acknowledgment of recent close calls plaguing the aviation industry.

In January, a Delta Air Lines plane about to take off was frantically ordered to halt when controllers noticed an American Airlines aircraft crossing its path at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. In December, a flight taking off from Maui, Hawaii, plummeted to merely 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean before it recovered. And in Austin, Texas, this month a FedEx cargo airplane trying to land and a Southwest Airlines flight preparing to take off narrowly avoided a collision.

Nolen said he is forming a safety review team “to examine the U.S. aerospace system’s structure, culture, processes, systems and integration of safety efforts” and to look for opportunities to address safety risks. 

A safety summit will be held in March to explore what additional actions should be taken to ensure aviation safety, the memo said.

“A group of commercial and general aviation leaders, labor partners, and others will examine which mitigations are working and why others appear to be not as effective as they once were,” Nolen said. 

Nolen also said he is asking the Commercial Aviation Safety Team to “take a fresh look” at Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing data to see “whether there are other incidents that resemble ones we have seen in recent weeks.”

“We need to see if there are indicators of emerging trends so we can focus on resources to address now,” he said. 

Nolen spoke about the new safety efforts at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday.

“I’m sure that you in the public have seen some of the news reports and close calls on runways and other operational events. Because I want to make sure we are giving the right amount of attention to all of these recent occurrences, I formed the safety review team," he said.

"I can say without reservation that the aviation professionals who comprise the American aerospace industry are proud of our safety record. But we all know that complacency has no place in their transportation, whether it’s on the flight deck in the control tower, the ramp or the dispatch center," he added.

The hearing was focused on the Notice to Air Missions system outage last month that grounded thousands of flights.

Nolen said the FAA's preliminary findings found that contract personnel "unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization issues between the live primary database and the backup database."

He stressed that there was no evidence found of a cyberattack or other malicious intent.

He said that while the NOTAM system may not be perfect, the FAA is doing what it can to improve it.

"Could I sit here today and tell you there will never be another issue on the NOTAM system? No, sir, I cannot. What I can say is that we are making every effort to modernize and look at our procedures," he said.