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How Airlines Are Improving Safety

In recent months, several alarming incidents have raised concerns about safety in the aviation industry. U.S. airlines, aviation experts, and regulators have taken note and are re-examining their policies, practices, and procedures.

While commercial aviation is typically very safe and employs a "Swiss cheese" safety approach to prevent any single point of failure, the recent incidents have been too close for comfort. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently held a Safety Summit near Washington, D.C., to review the issues and give a wake-up call to the industry.

Recent alarming incidents include the moment a FedEx 767 was allowed to land at Austin Airport at the same time a Southwest 737 was preparing to take off from the same runway on February 4. Despite FedEx pilots confirming twice with air traffic control that it was, in fact, safe to land, they decided to hold off and “go-around” in order to dodge the Southwest plane which was taking off. The two planes came within 100 feet of each other according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Such near-misses have had several different causes, making it difficult to identify a quick fix. However, at the summit, a number of common themes emerged. For example, Jennifer Homendy, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair, pressed the FAA to implement safety recommendations that the NTSB has made over the years. Some of these recommendations have been outstanding for 23 years, and Homendy emphasized that safety should not be compromised for the sake of cost-cutting.

In February, a FedEx plane nearly collided with a Southwest Airlines jet on the runway at Austin.

One of the main issues discussed at the summit was the influx of new workers in the industry due to the surge in travel demand following the pandemic. This includes new pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, and ground staff. The increase in staff turnover and workload has contributed to the challenges faced by the industry.

Whilst new workers are being recruited, the benefits of this are still not being felt by all in the industry. For example, the long training times for pilots mean that it can take years from initial recruitment to entering the industry fully qualified. Rich Santa, the head of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, pointed out that understaffing was also an issue. He cited insufficient staffing and funding models and suggested that better staffing would improve safety.

Airlines are already working to improve their staffing numbers and working benefits. After the land mark deal signed my Delta to increase pilots pay by over 30%, more airlines are following in their steps. This improvement to pay is aimed to retain employee satisfaction whilst encouraging more aviation workers into the industry, helping to combat staff shortages and improve safety.

The recent incidents have served as a wake-up call to the industry. Improving safety is crucial, and the FAA, airlines, and other industry players must work together to address the challenges facing the industry. While it remains to be seen what changes will come out of the Safety Summit, the focus on safety is a positive step towards ensuring that such incidents are prevented in the future.

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