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US watchdog to review FAA efforts to prevent runway incursions

U.S. government watchdog will review Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) efforts to prevent airport runway incursions after a series of incidents where airplanes came dangerously close to each other.

The U.S. Transportation Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it was opening its audit to assess FAA processes for analyzing data, identifying risks and preventing and mitigating runway incursions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating six runway incursion events since January including some near catastrophes.

In March, the FAA said it was taking steps to improve air traffic control, convening a safety summit and issuing a safety alert. In April, it named an independent safety review team and in June announced $100 million for 12 airports to make improvements to taxiways and lighting to reduce runway incursions.

On Thurday, the FAA said it welcomes scrutiny and looks forward to sharing its progress with OIG.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said a FedEx (FDX.N) cargo plane and a Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) Boeing 737 that came within about 115 feet (35 metres) of each other in Austin, Texas on Feb. 4 in poor visibility conditions could have been a "terrible tragedy."

Last month, she said the FedEx plane's first officer saw a single light from the Southwest 737 and then a silhouette of the plane before they aborted their planned landing.

Near-miss incidents have also occurred in Boston, Florida and there was a near collision at New York's JFK airport between a Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) plane and an American Airlines (AAL.O) Boeing 777.

A report released last month by OIG said FAA has made limited efforts to ensure adequate controller staffing, disclosing 77% of critical air traffic control facilities are staffed below the FAA's 85% threshold.

Managers say facilities are not adequately staffed and many do not have enough supervisors. At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover staff shortages, the report found. Of the FAA's 13,300 total controllers, 26% are trainees.

This article originally appeared on Reuters.

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