US Airport Security: A Constant Struggle

Incidents at airports are a challenge for US authorities

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has come under scrutiny after ordering a temporary landing of aircraft throughout the country in January and experiencing several near miss incidents since then. At a Senate hearing, Acting FAA Director Billy Nolen said the incident remains under investigation, and that the agency had made changes to prevent another grounding.

Two other near miss incidents have drawn national attention: on January 13, an American Airlines jet taking off from New York’s JFK International Airport crossed an exit runway without authorization, and on December 18, United Airlines Flight 1722 lost altitude after taking off from Maui, Hawaii. Fortunately, no one was injured in either incident.

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At the hearing, Mike Stengel, a partner at consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory, said there was no “obvious relationship” between these events. Former NTSB chief Jim Hall said the incidents suggested “an erosion of aviation safety” following problems with the Boeing 737 MAX.

The FAA is also under scrutiny for a major upgrade to the NOTAM system, which is not expected to be ready until 2025. Michel Merluzeau, director of the space and defense analysis consultancy AIR, said the agency has been “very slow and bureaucratic” in adopting new systems, and that the workload of air traffic controllers has become heavier and heavier.

In response to these incidents, Nolen announced that a security summit is underway in March, as well as reviews of security information exchanges and air traffic management. It is clear that the FAA needs to take a close look at whether it is structured, funded and staffed for the aviation of the future. With forecasts that demand for air transport will recover by 2023, the agency must ensure that there is no complacency in order to ensure safety.

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