FAA Safety Summit Brings Renewed Call for Vigilance

 - March 17, 2023, 11:23 AM
(Photo: Mark Wagner)

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen stressed the need to remain vigilant in safety, noting that for business aviation to grow it must be safe and perceived to be safe. “We’re trying to address both of those,” Bolen said during the FAA Safety Summit this week.

Bolen remarked that aviation has many layers of safety and redundancy. “Sometimes those layers can allow someone to say, ‘it’s all okay. I can relax.’” He added, “that’s not the way we are.”

He further noted that even with redundancies, there are specific areas with technology that can be enhanced. Bolen pointed to the technical glitches the notam system suffered in January. “The impact was significant,” he said. “There is an opportunity, where with urgency and with funding, we can move forward with increased technology to make sure the notams don’t just provide data but actual information across the system.”

Bolen also discussed the importance of safety management systems (SMS), calling them great safety tools. However, he stressed, “The tool needs to be sized to recognize the challenge. A saw is a great cutting tool and a scalpel is a great cutting tool. They're not interchangeable.” This is why getting the SMS rule right and scaled for the diversity of operations is important, he said.

Additionally, he noted all the technology coming to market such as automation. But warned the longer those technologies are delayed from reaching the market, the bigger the impact on safety. Ultimately, he said, “We have got to have strong communication, coordination, and engagement. Safety is an industry responsibility.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg opened the Safety Summit in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday noting that while the U.S. aviation system still remains the safest in the world, “we are particularly concerned because we have seen an uptick in serious close calls that we must address together.”

Buttigieg added that initial information suggests “more mistakes than usual are happening across the system—on runways, at gates when planes are pushing back, in control towers, and in flight decks.”

FAA acting Administrator Billy Nolen followed, also emphasizing that “vigilance can never take the day off” and said: “We must ask ourselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions, even when we are confident that the system is sound.”

He pointed to the recent close calls and attention focused on routine go-arounds, he asked, “are we emphasizing efficiency over safety? How much of what we are seeing can be attributed to the sudden resurgence in demand following the pandemic?” 

He noted the initiatives of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team but asked if those efforts are nimble enough to eliminate the rare incidents they have seen.

Following the opening remarks and initial panel, the Safety Session moved into breakout sessions, including one focused on general aviation issues. Among the participants were National Air Transportation Association COO Keith DeBerry and v-p of regulatory affairs Alan Stephens who highlighted issues including human factors related to a shortage of skilled pilots, retention of workforce, and pilot professionalism. Other issues touched upon ground operations such as runway excursions and ramp safety; FAA interoperability, including SMS, safety data, and the new agency inspector workforce; and risk factors involving aircraft automation, loss of control/circling approaches, and supply chain. DeBerry noted these were the primary safety areas of concern amongst its members.

Nolen said conversations that had been ongoing during the summit will continue in upcoming months.