[Fox Business] FAA panel warns that current safety levels are ‘unsustainable’

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An expert review panel created to address a string of close calls in the aviation industry warned Wednesday that the current safety levels are “unsustainable” and recommended several steps to ensure the safety of air travel.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s National Airspace System safety review team, created in April following several close runway incursions during takeoffs or landings at busy airports, determined the concurrence of several challenges such as the air traffic control staffing crunch, insufficient funding and outdated technology “results in an erosion of safety margins that must be urgently addressed.”

“The current erosion in the margin of safety in the NAS caused by the confluence of these challenges is rendering the current level of safety unsustainable,” the team’s report said.

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The panel stressed that the “effective management of system risk requires sufficient staffing and funding to execute the policies and processes proven to be effective.” 

For instance, the panel described how the maintenance and sustainment of the air traffic organization’s “internal processes and systems are challenged by a lack of adequate staffing and funding.” 

The FAA has faced years of underinvestment that has resulted in “significant unfunded requirements,” the report said. 

Even with the $3.5 billion requested by the Biden administration for fiscal year 2024, “there remains over $450 million of unfunded requirements in FY 2025 for sustaining or replacing legacy systems,” the report said.

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To help, the panel, in part, recommended strengthening the FAA organizational structures, institutionalizing roles and responsibilities, and advancing a proactive, data-driven safety culture. 

It also recommended that the agency needs to accurately project and invest in hiring, training and certification of the workforce as well as receive adequate and consistent funding to facilitate the provision and safety oversight 24/7. 

Overcoming these challenges won’t be easy. For one, FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker, who took over in October, noted that the agency has to figure out how to increase the number of people it hires without decreasing standards. 

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He said that these challenges aren’t a quick fix and that there are “longer-term structural challenges that need to be addressed.” 

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