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Lawmakers in Congress can't work together — and aviation experts say it's making it harder to keep the skies safe

Natalie Musumeci   

Lawmakers in Congress can't work together — and aviation experts say it's making it harder to keep the skies safe
  • "Gridlock" in Congress is in part to blame for safety risks in the skies, aviation experts said.
  • The group, formed by the FAA, said insufficient funding is hampering the FAA.

An independent team of experts formed by the Federal Aviation Administration has blamed "recurring gridlock" in Congress and insufficient industry funding for the growing safety risks in the skies.

The National Airspace System Safety Review Team sounded the alarm about aging FAA infrastructure and technology, air traffic controller staff shortages, and funding issues in a 52-page report released on Wednesday.

"These challenges, in the areas of process integrity, staffing, and facilities, equipment, and technology, all have ties to inadequate, inconsistent funding," the report says. "Together, these challenges contribute to increased safety risk and should be regarded as incident precursors."

The "current erosion in the margin of safety" in the United States' aviation system "caused by the confluence of these challenges is rendering the current level of safety unsustainable," the report said.

The six-member outside panel of aviation experts said in the report that years of disorder in Congress has posed significant challenges for the FAA, heightening safety risks.

"Recent Congresses have been plagued by recurring gridlock, which undermines the FAA's ability to effectively perform its mission," the report said.

The report continued, "This stop-and-start process in Congress has resulted in the disruption of critical activities, notably including the hiring and training of air traffic controllers."

"It has also slowed down the implementation of key technology modernization programs, delayed thousands of flights, and held up billions of dollars of airport infrastructure investments. This situation makes it extremely difficult for the FAA to effectively conduct long-term business planning and execution," the report said.

The expert team called for "urgent action" to be taken to address the risk in the nation's aviation system and made a series of recommendations in the report, which focus on hiring, modernizing infrastructure, and "adequately and consistently funding" the FAA.

"At current funding levels, the FAA has insufficient resources to carry out its portfolio of responsibilities," the report says.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told Business Insider in a statement on Thursday that the agency "welcomes" the group's report and that it "will thoroughly review the recommendations."

"We appreciate the team's time and expertise to help us pursue our goal of zero serious close calls," Whitaker said.

The FAA established the independent safety review team, which includes former FAA administrator Michael Huerta, in April to "examine ways to enhance safety and reliability in the nation's air traffic system" after several near-miss incidents between planes.

A New York Times investigation published this summer found that near-miss collisions between planes have been happening far more frequently than previously thought. On average, there were multiple airline close calls per week this year, the report, which was published in August, found.

In July alone, there were at least 46 near-miss incidents involving commercial planes, according to the New York Times.

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