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Near misses and other mishaps are setting off alarm bells in the aviation industry

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The Federal Aviation Administration, for the first time in 14 years, has hosted a safety summit. It's done that because in recent months there have been at least six incidents of airplanes nearly colliding on runways. And those near misses, plus cases of violent turbulence and other mishaps, are causing concern in the aviation industry. NPR's David Schaper reports on how the FAA is working to improve safety.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The recent close calls include aircraft mistakenly crossing active runways and planes cleared to take off and land on the same runway at nearly the same time. Kicking off the aviation safety summit, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told industry stakeholders they cannot wait for the next catastrophic event to take action.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: Initial information suggests that more mistakes than usual are happening across the system on runways, at gates when planes are pushing back, in control towers and on flight decks.

SCHAPER: So the FAA pulled together more than 200 leaders from airlines, airports, air traffic control and labor unions. They broke off into working groups covering various elements of aviation safety and areas of expertise. Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen tasked them with looking at all aspects of their operations with fresh eyes.

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BILLY NOLEN: Vigilance can never take a day off. We must ask ourselves difficult questions and sometimes even uncomfortable ones, even when we are confident that our system is sound.

SCHAPER: National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy quickly detailed one uncomfortable truth.

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JENNIFER HOMENDY: Now, the NTSB has issued seven recommendations on runway collisions that have not been acted upon. One is 23 years old and still appropriate today on technology warning pilots of an impending collision.

SCHAPER: Others questioned whether efforts to improve airline efficiency and the rapid recovery from the pandemic have compromised safety. Of note is the huge turnover of aviation employees as many veteran pilots, air traffic controllers and others took early retirements, leaving a newer, less experienced workforce. Recommendations include improved training to reduce the likelihood of human error incidents. The FAA says the conversations about improving aviation safety will continue in the coming months and could form the basis for new industry guidelines and regulations.

David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.