The White House is set to announce a new funding plan of $26 million aimed at improving aviation safety in the United States. This comes in response to a string of near-miss incidents throughout the year that have raised concerns about the safety of the aviation industry. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will allocate $10 million to enhance controller situational awareness and reduce runway close calls by implementing surface surveillance systems at additional airports.
According to officials, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating seven runway incursion events that have occurred since January. In order to prevent incorrect runway landings and minimize close calls, the FAA plans to spend $8 million on expanding its terminal automation system. Additionally, $8 million will be allocated to deploy a runway incursion memory aid device to 72 more airports. This device provides visual and audible alerts to remind air traffic controllers to check the runway before issuing clearances.
In a separate development, the White House has nominated Michael Whitaker, a former deputy FAA administrator, to serve as the head of the FAA. This nomination comes after the department has been without a permanent administrator since April 2022. Whitaker, who currently serves as the chief commercial officer for Supernal, a Hyundai company involved in electric air vehicles, brings a wealth of aviation experience to the role.
The need for increased investment in aviation safety technology solutions was emphasized by NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy in May. She cited a series of close-call incidents, including a near collision between a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet in San Diego just last month. Homendy advocated for the upgrading and extension of technology systems that detect aircraft and ground vehicles at airports to prevent runway incursions. Currently, these systems are only in use at 43 U.S. airports, while there are approximately 500 commercial airports in the country.
In addition to the funding announcement and the nomination of Whitaker, the White House has also urged Congress to allocate new funds for aviation safety. The current FAA authorization is set to expire on September 30. The FAA has faced various challenges recently, including a computer system outage in January that caused a nationwide ground stop for about two hours, disrupting over 11,000 flights. Furthermore, the agency is grappling with a shortage of air traffic controllers, which has led to temporary cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested airports.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed his support for Whitaker's nomination, stating that the FAA needs a confirmed administrator and that Whitaker is the right leader for the job. Buttigieg emphasized Whitaker's extensive knowledge and experience in aviation safety and management, suggesting that political gamesmanship should not hinder the appointment of a permanent leader at the FAA. The Air Line Pilots Association has also welcomed Whitaker's nomination, calling for stable leadership focused on safety within the agency.