FAA Breakdown: There Were 46 “Close Calls” Between Planes Last Month And 300 Near-Collisions In A Year

Whether it’s the Fedex freighter being cleared to land nearly on top of a Southwest Airlines departing flight, or an American Airlines Boeing 777 crossing in front of a Delta 737 taking off, while taxiing down the wrong runway, along with several other incidents over the past few months there’s a growing sense of danger: that air traffic control in the U.S. is narrowly averting disasters and that safety margin has been eroded.

However there’s been insufficient attention to this, focusing mainly when the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization breaks down because of antiquated equipment. The FAA ATO is understaffed. It has badly managed technology investments for decades, only finally working to eliminate the use of paper flight strips and pushing back against investments like remote towers.

The New York Times reports that there have been far more dangerous incidents than previously disclosed. In fact, they’re happening all the time. There were 46 “close calls” last month alone.

On the afternoon of July 2, a Southwest Airlines pilot had to abort a landing at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. A Delta Air Lines 737 was preparing to take off on the same runway. The sudden maneuver avoided a possible collision by seconds.

Nine days later, in San Francisco, an American Airlines jet was accelerating down the runway at more than 160 miles per hour when it narrowly missed a Frontier Airlines plane whose nose had almost jutted into its path. Moments later, the same thing happened as a German airliner was taking off. In both cases, the planes came so close to hitting the Frontier aircraft that the Federal Aviation Administration, in internal records reviewed by The New York Times, described the encounters as “skin to skin.”

And two and a half weeks after that, an American flight to Dallas was traveling at more than 500 m.p.h. when a collision warning blared in the cockpit. An air traffic controller had mistakenly directed a United Airlines plane to fly dangerously close. The American pilot had to abruptly yank the Airbus A321 up 700 feet.

The number of incidents has more than doubled over the past 10 years, with “about 300 accounts of near collisions involving commercial airlines” in the most recently-available 12 months of data.

The piece focuses on lack of staffing, and cites the FAA’s call for more funding. That’s part of the problem but it’s insufficient. The Times bizarrely cites President Reagan firing illegally striking air traffic controllers over 40 years ago as a cause. This doesn’t begin to explain the deterioration in the last decade, since the controllers let go in 1981 would no longer be working today.

Airlines and aviation unions have called for more taxpayer money, while hailing the FAA the “Gold Standard.” We shouldn’t be so complacent. We urgently need reform.

The FAA regulates itself. World aviation safety standards recommend having a separation between regulation and service provision. When an agency is in charge of self-regulation, you don’t get accountability. The ATO should be separated from its regulator. This can be into a different government agency, or into a private non-profit (as is done in Canada).

The Air Traffic Organization further is subject to the vagaries of congressional appropriations cycles which is poor for capital investment planning. A Canadian-style non-profit could issue bonds to raise money for major investment, funded by fees paid for service by the airlines themselves rather than taxpayers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] The FAA has known about this for over two years, but has concealed them from the public. Veterans Affairs investigators discovered the inconsistencies more than two years ago by cross-checking federal databases, but the FAA has kept many details of the case a secret from the public just as they hid that there were 300 near collisions in a year. […]


  1. I was curious if other countries use the same technology or resources, I asked chatGPT. Then I asked a few follow-up questions. The answers were interesting but inconclusive.

    Air traffic control technology can vary between countries, including the United States. The differences may be in the types of radar systems, communication protocols, navigation aids, and software used to manage air traffic.

    In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees air traffic control and has implemented technologies like the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to modernize the system. Other countries may have their own unique systems and technologies, often developed in accordance with international standards set by organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

    Some countries may have more advanced or different technologies due to various factors such as budget, geography, traffic volume, and regulatory environment. Collaboration and standardization are essential to ensure that different systems can work together, especially in regions with heavy international air traffic.

  2. …and when there is that blood, somehow no bureaucrat or policy maker will be responsible for this mess.

  3. When a few congressmen get killed in an accident because a close call became a collision, things might eventually change.

  4. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes. The system is beyond strained. But predictably, instead of seeing the breadcrumbs and making needed changes now, the FAA will do what they always do: stick their heads in the sand until blood is shed. Some things never change.

  5. The technology is the same and has functioned well for what is designed to do. I’d blame a generation of idiots glued to their phone screens and the resulting absence of attention as a result.

  6. I hope we don’t have any close calls or worse on our next flight. These statistics are scary.

  7. We certainly do not need another layer of profit-extractions (a “nonprofit” that pays a bloated bureauracy of executives millions each, and that shares its bounty by bribing, aka lobbying, Washington, i.e. Congresspeople). What we need is Congress to do its job, and instead of just cutting cutting cutting, they need to reform. Like Reagan did.

    Also, passengers (not taxpayers) pay for air traffic control, through a tax on their tickets. Congress could change this too, by charging airlines instead of passengers, but the private sector bribery is so entrenched in Washington (airlines have HUGE lobbying budgets) that such a law would never see the light of day.

  8. Yea… that’s all fine and dandy, @Gary… But you fail to miss a giant part of it, because, you know, you have no actual qualifications in either ATC or flying a plane. So, let me break it down.

    Jet 1 is flying 190 kts to 5DME and has to drastically slow down at 5dme to final approach speed and get fully configured to land all by 1000′ TDZE. jets are very slippery and don’t slow down like a car. We don’t want to do 190IAS on 5 mile final, but we have to to allow the ATC person to keep the flow going. (obviously, if we MUST go slow, then we can. but all it takes is 1 kink for it to go out of whack).
    Meanwhile, Jet 2 is STILL flying 190 in trail behind you slowing down and now you are advancing on Jet 1.

    On a blue sky day this can work. But, now throw an airbus as Jet 1 who is now battling a cross wind and it’s GS MINI rises to compensate for the winds. Meanwhile, the 737 (etc..) behind it doesn’t function off of GS MINI and is doing it’s VREF and still overtaking you. Make it a 737-900 in trail of a 320? ya, that’s MIN spacing.

    ATC’s solution to the mass ‘congestion’ is to give absolute minimal spacing between aircraft. It’s a horrific decision and one that has directly contributed to this problem.

    Is it the sole factor? No. But when you shove X more airplanes into the same airspace and don’t flow it smoothly, things get backed up and close call risks elevate. Task saturation becomes severe and the swiss cheese model of risk assessments becomes too much to process.

    What are you left with? yet another close call. And these examples are just the close calls you don’t hear about that are immediate go-arounds due to loss of spacing, or a crew elected go- around to name a few items.

    Throw in bad weather, and aircraft can easily lose it’s orientation. Think it cant happen? I’ll ask you, how often do you slow down, turn the radio down or ask people to stop talking while driving in bad weather? How quickly can things get overlooked?

    Automation and advancements in tech can only do so much. The FAA must do better to harmonize and streamline it’s procedures. enhanced centerline lights and stop bar lights can only do so much.

    Am I saying pilots are incapable humans? no. But they rely on ATC to keep spacing. IF ATC is overwhelmed based on some cubical data miner employee who has no clue how it works… It is truly only a matter of time before a bad situation comes to fruition.

    Yes, ATC needs new tech, no question. But it needs procedural reform, too.

  9. Just keep voting for Democrats and wonder why nothing ever gets better…

    Yeah I know, this has been a problem for a long time, but Joe Biden is spending trillions of dollars we don’t have now. At least we should get something tangible for it, like maybe a functional ATC system.

    I guess there’s not enough graft opportunities in air traffic control. I mean, this isn’t the Inflation “Reduction” Act lol…


  10. @ Steve. You lost me at GS Mini too. I don’t recall ever hearing “GS Mini” in any ground school involving Boeing, Lockheed or MD. Must be like a secret handshake for ScareBus pilots?

  11. I’ve watched YouTube videos by RealATC of some of these incidents. The thing that stands out is that the controllers are deliberately directing takeoff/landing pairs with narrower margins than is advisable. And sometimes the departing flight does not realize the need to expedite takeoff.

    Do the controllers feel the need to do this because of the high volume of traffic? Or just because the higher efficiency makes them look good?

    As for encroachment cases, it seems stricter enforcement of clear readback, and repeat when interference, would help. But they’re all busy, busy, busy!

  12. Gary is there a way to get info on the 46 close calls in July to determine the times each event happened. I would like to find out if there is a correlation between time of day and close calls and possibly the ten most dangerous airports for close calls. Looks like SFO may be one of the most dangerous, but I’m not sure.

  13. CDTI will be very very helpful when implemented. It can be used at cruise too. Still in operational testing phase at DFW, AA AB’s only for the time. But will be industry standard soon. Need it yesterday !

  14. One thing to consider here, reports of close calls, are reports from ATC and/or Pilots. 10 years ago, the culture of self reporting (ATSAP) in the ATC world was not widely accepted, as it is today. Countless close calls happened 10+ years ago that were never reported. The trust of the self reporting (ATSAP) being non-punitive has allowed many more controllers to admit to their mistakes and close calls.

    Furthermore, the 46 “close-calls” can be subjective. A close call to a pilot, or controller is very different than a reporter’s or even someone in a QA/QC office in the FAA.

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