National Transportation Safety Board chair on airplane close calls


(WASHINGTON) — As the aviation system is facing questions after at least six “close call” incidents between airplanes since December, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy acknowledged risks while voicing confidence in the system.

“We are still the safest aviation system in the world,” Homendy told ABC “This Week” anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday. “There are clearly risks that we need to evaluate, and this is why the NTSB is investigating several incidents so it doesn’t become something more catastrophic.”

One of these incidents involved a United Airlines 777 aircraft apparently taking a nosedive after departing from Hawaii. The plane carrying hundreds of passengers from Maui to San Francisco went down to 775 feet above the Pacific Ocean before pilots could regain control. A formal investigation was not opened until two months later, as United reportedly did not report the incident to NTSB because they believed there was no need to as there were no passenger injuries or damage to the aircraft.

“Should that criteria be changed?” Raddatz pressed.

“The criteria for accidents and incidents is something that we will look at and constantly review,” Homendy responded. “We didn’t have a full investigation of it because it occurred on the same day as another very turbulent event in Hawaii. But it is something that we are investigating.”

Raddatz asked whether the aviation system is being pushed “too hard” following the immense toll the COVID-19 pandemic took on the industry.

“I think it’s a difficult time for the aviation industry,” Homendy responded. “I think, you know, we saw a lot of layoffs. We saw a lot of employees retire, we have new employees coming on that are being trained. We have drones coming online, air taxis, so it’s a difficult time and it’s really a transitional time for the aviation industry.”

Homendy assured Raddatz that the National Transportation Safety Board is “very concerned” about these incidents, emphasizing the overall progress of aviation over the last several decades.

“Can you confirm that these incidents, these very close calls are on the rise?” Raddatz asked.

“They are on the rise,” Homendy answered, adding that “the FAA needs to take action.”

Data from the Federal Aviation Administration shows the number of overall runway incidents at U.S. airports has increased, but the number of most serious close calls at U.S. airports has decreased over the last two decades.

The NTSB chief also addressed concerns over railroad safety, particularly in the wake of the February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Homendy on Sunday said the agency is not satisfied with new safety goals outlined by Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.

“They are not robust enough,” Homendy told Raddatz. “I think we’ll be looking at more recommendations as part of our investigation.”

Shaw testified in front of Congress this week as the town of East Palestine is still reeling from a toxic spill in early February. That and other incidents raised questions about overall transportation safety.

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