White House Announces $26 Million in Funding to Improve Aviation Industry Safety

May 17, 2024

Safety concerns within the commercial aviation industry have been under significant scrutiny over the past year, as mechanical issues, near misses, and other incidents are on the rise. In response, the White House announced a new initiative that allocated $26 million in funding aimed at improving aviation safety at U.S. airports and in commercial aircraft operated throughout the country as of September 2023. This funding supplements the $25 billion investment in airport infrastructure that the White House has rolled out during the Biden administration in a hope to effectively address this growing issue.

How White House Funding is Focused on Improving Aviation Safety Technology

Surface Surveillance Systems

Of the White House funding, $10 million is supporting efforts to improve situational awareness in flight controllers and reduce runway close calls. One such effort is to expand the use of surface surveillance systems – a tool where pilots and air traffic controllers can see aircraft and vehicles both on the ground and within a few miles of the airport. Technology systems that help detect aircraft and ground vehicles at airports to prevent runway incursion are currently used at only one-tenth of the United States’ 500 commercial airports. Deploying them more widely will enhance air traffic control's ability to see the entire airfield, reducing the risk of planes being in unauthorized areas, which can lead to near misses.

Terminal Automation Systems

Another $8 million is being used to expand the use of terminal automation systems, which gathers surveillance data and flight plan information that is analyzed by air traffic controllers to manage the traffic around airports. This system provides alerts about aircraft alignments, helping to prevent pilots from landing on the wrong runway, another major cause of near misses.

Runway Incursion Memory Aid Devices

The final $8 million is supporting the expansion of runway incursion memory aid devices to 72 additional airports. These devices provide an alert system to remind controllers to check runways before they issue clearances for planes to land or navigate through the runway.

Near Misses in Aviation on the Rise

A key factor in the noted rise of aviation issues appears to be a lack of air traffic controllers. The FAA is trying to hire 1,800 new air traffic controllers in 2024, but they have reported difficulty filling open positions, leading to overworked and potentially stressed controllers who may be more susceptible to mistakes. Air traffic control systems rely on some older technology, which may not be as efficient or reliable as newer options and can limit controllers' ability to monitor air traffic effectively.

As the aviation industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an all-time high demand for flights. This puts more strain on the entire system, increasing the chance of incidents. Similarly, this demand may lead to a higher number of less experienced pilots flying commercial aircraft. While all pilots are highly trained, new pilots may be more prone to errors. 

Addressing Aviation Industry Shortfalls

The Biden Administration has called on Congress – which allocates funding for the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board – to support the FAA’s safety efforts and provide additional funding to update safety systems. Last fall, the Federal Aviation Administration held a series of runway safety meetings at nearly 100 airports “to identify unique risks to surface safety at that airport and develop plans to mitigate or eliminate those risks.”

In conjunction with those meetings, the White House formed an independent Safety Review Team that will provide safety enhancement recommendations to the FAA. They have also increased training for controllers, issued safety directives to pilots and airlines to reinforce safety protocols, and helped organize airport-specific meetings that can address safety incidents unique to each location. Through these dedicated efforts and funding, the White House and commercial aviation industry hope to curtail this worrisome trend.

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