The Federal Aviation Administration continues to sap public confidence in its commitment to safety. The New York Times reported Friday that the FAA was dragging its feet on efforts to prevent collisions on the runway, even though the number of serious "incursions" in a recent six-month period was nearly double that of a year ago. This complacency is unacceptable.
Fifteen times in the period ending in March, an unauthorized plane, vehicle or person was caught on a runway, the newspaper reported, compared to eight such instances the same time last year. These dangers are almost always caused by human error. While the FAA and the airports have improved lighting and signs on the ground, the agency has resisted requiring airlines to install new and expensive technology in the cockpit. Advocates say these electronic warning systems could alert flight crews early on to navigational hazards on the runway. But the FAA has pushed off even a rudimentary plan until 2020. It also has not signed off on recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board that would tighten the flow of aircraft between runways and the gate.
The safety board, the Transportation Department and airline pilots say there is a dangerous gap between safety in-flight and on the ground. "You can fly an aircraft across the Pacific or across the Atlantic, and at any point in that journey you know where you are within about 3 meters, until you get on the ground," said Randy Babbitt, a longtime pilot and former Air Line Pilots Association president. The news comes amid reports that the FAA covered up mistakes made by air traffic controllers and relaxed inspections on aircraft that led to the massive groundings in recent weeks.
The flying public deserves better — and so do the airlines, which need the confidence of consumers to put the industry back on solid financial ground.