By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress needs to address serious concerns about the country’s aviation system after recent incidents including two near miss crashes and the failure of a key pilot computing system, lawmakers said on Tuesday.
“Right now the alarm bells should be going off across the aviation industry — our system is stretched and stressed,” Representative Garret Graves, the Republican chair of a subcommittee on aviation, said at a hearing.
House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure committee chair Sam Graves, a Republican, said the incidents showed the aviation system is in need of “urgent attention.”
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy said preliminary information showed a FedEx Boeing 767 cargo plane and a Southwest Airlines 737-700 that nearly collided Saturday were “probably under 100 feet (30.5 meters) vertically from each other” and the event could have been “catastrophic.”
The NTSB is also investigating another nearly tragic runway incursion at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. A Delta Air Lines plane was ultimately able to stop safely after air traffic controllers noticed an American Airlines Boeing 777 had crossed from an adjacent taxiway.
David Boulter, the Federal Aviation Administration’s acting head of aviation safety, said the two recent events were serious. “We need to double down on what is it that’s causing these, what have we missed in our voluntary systems, what have we missed in our data,” Boulter said at the hearing.
The FAA has hired 200 new aviation safety employees in the last year and about 200 the year before, Boulter said.
The hires came after Congress boosted funding and reformed how the FAA certifies new airplanes in the wake of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.
Last month, a computer system outage on Jan. 11 disrupted more than 11,000 U.S. flights and led to the first nationwide ground stop since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Some lawmakers raised concerns the FAA has been without a permanent administrator since April 1.
Last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday said the government needs to “pick up the pace” on its efforts to modernize FAA computer systems.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)