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FAA launches new training for air traffic controllers to reduce ‘close calls’

<i>Graeme Sloan/Sipa</i><br/>The agency has also made other changes in air traffic control towers and facilities
Graeme Sloan/Sipa
The agency has also made other changes in air traffic control towers and facilities

By Gregory Wallace

(CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration is stepping up air traffic control training after a series of close calls have left the flying public and regulatory bodies rattled.

The transportation agency will require the thousands of air traffic controllers it employs to attend new monthly training as part of an effort to reduce near-collisions of aircraft, according to an FAA statement released Wednesday.

The first topics will “cover several items to reduce events on the surface” of airports. The topics for safety briefings will also be driven by “data and seasonal challenges,” the FAA said.

There have been several close calls on US runways this year, including one at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in January: “The air traffic controller had to swoop in and stop a flight that was barreling down the runway toward a crossing, taxiing (Boeing) 777 from taking off,” said CNN’s Pete Muntean, an aviation expert and pilot.

In another incident in February, a FedEx cargo plane that was trying to land in Austin, Texas, had to change course to avoid colliding with a Southwest Airlines jet that was taking off.

In March, the FAA hosted a safety summit with industry and aerospace safety leaders. The agency has made other changes in air traffic control towers and facilities, including directing supervisors to have a more hands-on presence during busy times.

Ahead of the summit, Muntean explained that while it’s the job of air traffic controllers to keep airplanes from running into one another, some of the responsibility falls on the flight crew to remain vigilant and follow their instructions. There are also radar and other technologies to detect where airplanes are on the ground– not just in the air, Muntean said.

“To reach our goal of zero close calls, everyone must stay sharp,” Tim Arel, the FAA official overseeing air traffic control, said Wednesday. “This training will give us an opportunity to focus on safety with our entire workforce.”

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