Jun. 14--WASHINGTON -- Near-collisions and a lack of federal action in the 10 months after the fatal Comair crash in Lexington have prompted calls for increased scrutiny of the Federal Aviation Administration's airport safety programs.
Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, yesterday filed a bill that would require a one-time independent assessment of aviation safety-related research efforts. The bill has been sent to the House Science and Technology Committee, where Chandler sits on its space and aeronautics subcommittee.
"The Comair crash last year made it clear that improved safety measures for air-traffic controllers and pilots are desperately needed in airports throughout the United States," Chandler said in a statement. On Aug. 27, 2006, an Atlanta-bound Comair jet crashed in a field when the pilots tried to take off at Blue Grass Airport from the wrong, too-short, runway. The pilot, flight attendant and 47 passengers were killed; the co-pilot survived with severe injuries.
"It's no secret I've had some grave concerns about the FAA in particular," Chandler said yesterday. "We think this independent review will get the FAA's attention and get them to understand that there are a lot of people interested in what they do."
Chandler's legislation would require the FAA to work with the National Academies' National Research Council, an independent scientific body, to assess whether at least 16 areas of FAA safety research are well-defined, prioritized, coordinated, appropriately funded, and whether the results can be implemented "in a timely manner."
The FAA would have to deliver the report to the committee within 14 months if the bill is enacted. The legislation would also authorize $700,000 to pay for the report.
Separately, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, on Monday released a letter asking the Department of Transportation's inspector general to look into the "root causes" of five in-flight near-misses in the New York area in May. "These incidents call for a broader investigation into the safety of our nation's busiest system and our ability to avoid catastrophic airline collisions," Clinton said in the letter.
Chandler's bill is, in part, a response to testimony last week before the House Transportation committee. National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker testified that the FAA repeatedly has failed to address problems such as human fatigue and runway incursions. Under international aviation rules, which the FAA is in the process of adopting, "incursions" are incidents of something (plane, vehicle, person) being in the wrong place on a runway or taxiway.
$1 billion on technology
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said yesterday that the agency has spent nearly $1 billion on runway safety technology since 2000. One system, AMASS, is in the 34 busiest airports; ASDE-X, the better, newer version, is at eight and will replace AMASS. Runway status lights are being tested in Dallas and San Diego, and the FAA has published technical requirements for new in-cockpit technology that would let commercial pilots see where they are in relation to other airport traffic.
There were 330 incursions last year, 31 of them considered potentially catastrophic, including an incident last summer at Chicago's O'Hare airport when a passenger jet and a cargo jet missed each other by 35 feet, NTSB reports indicate.
However, the most serious incursions are down this year, at 11 so far, compared with 21 in the same period of 2006.
U.S. Rep calling for one-time assessment
Aug. 10--The all-too-real risk of planes colliding at O'Hare International Airport has been reduced with the deployment of new runway safety equipment, the Federal Aviation Administration said...
Several of Logan's recent near-collisions occurred when pilots crossed onto active runways, despite warnings from air traffic controllers and radio reminders.
The FAA said it's investigating the near collision, but spokesman Paul Turk said he wasn't certain whether the tower reported the mistake.