Crewing and technology issues threaten aviation safety, report says

A panel of outside experts appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday called for “swift action” to address safety risks in the nation’s aviation system, highlighting problems such as air traffic controller shortages and outdated technology.

The FAA announced the formation of the group, the National Airspace System Safety Review Team, in April after a series of close calls at airports across the country, and the panel released a 52-page report Wednesday outlining its findings.

In addition to urging the FAA to address the shortage of air traffic controllers and improve its aging technology, the report also recommended changes to how the agency is funded, such as more generally protecting it from government shutdowns.

“The current erosion of the margin of safety in the NAS caused by the confluence of these challenges makes the current level of safety unsustainable,” the report said, referring to what is known as the National Airspace System.

The expert group was chaired by Michael P. Huerta, who served as FAA administrator under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump. It also included other former federal officials and former union leaders.

“There are no easy short-term solutions to solving many of these challenges,” said Mr. Huerta to reporters on Wednesday. “Addressing risks in the NAS requires the FAA, the Administration, Congress and others across industry to work together.”

The report comes after New York Times investigations published in August and in October revealed how the country’s notorious aviation security system is under increasing stress. The Times found that close calls involving commercial airlines had occurred several times a week on average.

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A severe shortage of air traffic controllers – The Times found that 99 percent of the country’s air traffic control facilities were understaffed – has been a major factor.

The report, released Wednesday, also warned of the risks of aging technology. In January, an FAA system outage grounded flights nationwide and led to a wave of delays and cancellations for travelers.

“The age and condition of FAA facilities and equipment raise system risk to unsustainable levels, even before considering losses in efficiency from obsolete technology,” the report said.

The agency has said it has taken steps to reduce the risk of close approaches at airports, such as by providing funding to reconfigure taxiways and improve runway lighting.

“The FAA welcomes the Independent Safety Assessment Team’s report and we will thoroughly review the recommendations,” the agency’s new administrator, Michael G. Whitaker, who was confirmed by the Senate last month, said in a statement. “We appreciate the team’s time and expertise in helping us pursue our goal of zero serious close calls.”

The near misses have also caught the attention of Congress. A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the subject last week, and among the witnesses was Jennifer L. Homendy, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating a series of near misses.

“While these incidents are incredibly rare, our security system is showing clear signs of strain that we cannot ignore,” Ms Homendy said.

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