Aviation “Close Calls” Raise Alarms for the FAA

March 8, 2023

More than 45,000 flights take off from the U.S. every day, and according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) we are in the safest period ever for aviation in history. However, recent incidents of close calls at airports and near collisions in the sky are raising alarms across the aviation industry.

There are several factors that determine whether an event is a close call, but generally it is an unexpected incident that positions two or more aircraft in dangerous proximity to each other with the situation resolving just in time to avoid disaster. These events have the potential to cause, but may not result in, injury or damage. While close calls commonly apply to airplanes navigating a runway, they also occur when an airplane unexpectedly loses significant altitude mid-flight and when two or more aircraft narrowly avoid a mid-air collision.

FAA records show that close calls have risen significantly in the past 20 years. One common type of close call is a runway incursion, which includes the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected landing or takeoff area. Despite additional safety measures and new technologies to prevent these events, incursions have nearly doubled in the last two decades, growing from 987 in 2002 to 1,732 in 2022. Instances of the most severe incursions, however, have decreased during the same time period.

Close calls in aviation occur for a variety of reasons, such as miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers, equipment failure, weather conditions, or human error or intentional actions. These incidents are taken very seriously by aviation authorities, and they are investigated thoroughly to determine the cause and prevent similar incidents from happening. New technologies – like monitoring systems and alarms – and occupational safety interventions – like additional focus on employee well-being – are helping to identify emerging trends and mitigate risk. To address this rise in close calls, the FAA issued a “safety call to action” on Feb.14, which formed a safety review team to assess processes, systems, culture, and other factors that may lead to these incidents. The team will hold a Safety Summit in March to identify additional measures from pilots, air traffic controllers, and other partners that can be put in place to improve safety.


Keeping Workplaces–and the Skies–Safe with Capitol Tech

Capitol Tech offers unique programs in aviation and astronautical sciences and occupational safety that can prepare you to better understand why close calls happen and develop new strategies to prevent them. Programs such as our Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) degree in Aeronautical Accident Investigation and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Occupational Risk Management allow students to dive deep in the causes behind aviation disasters and determine how to reduce future risk of similar incidents.

On Thursday, March 16, Capitol Tech will host a webinar to explore how a shifting focus on employee well-being can create a safer work environment. Led by Dr. Darin Dillow, a Professor of Practice and Safety Program Director for Capitol Technology University, “The Occupational Safety and Health Emphasis on Mental Well-Being” will discuss how employees who start their shifts off in a better frame of mind are less likely to incur accidents while performing tasks or to lose motivation for their work. For more information, visit captechu.edu or contact admissions@captechu.edu.