Ross: I don’t care what it costs, just make sure our planes are safe

Jan 4, 2024, 9:33 AM

planes safe costs...

This photo taken on January 3, 2024 shows officials looking at the burnt wreckage of a Japan Airlines (JAL) passenger plane on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda in Tokyo, after the JAL airliner hit a smaller coast guard plane on the ground the day before. Pilots on a Japan Airlines plane that burst into flames just after all 379 passengers and crew escaped had no "visual contact" with the other aircraft in the collision, the airline said on January 4. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP) (Photo by RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)

By now, you’ve seen that video of the Airbus A350 burning on the runway in Japan after colliding with a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft that wasn’t supposed to be there.

The passengers and crew of the A350 got off safely, but the Coast Guard crew did not.

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And even though it happened half a world away, this is a warning for us.

Air travel may be safer than driving, but aircraft do not do well in collisions. And the rash of near misses at U.S. airports prompted a Senate hearing last November.

“The near misses we’ve been seeing recently are not normal. They are a warning that our aviation system is under stress,” Duckworth said.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, a former pilot, says it’s time to give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the money it’s been asking for.

“In far too many near misses, the difference between a close call and a deadly disaster has depended on a single individual taking emergency action along with some good luck,” Duckworth said.

“As both a pilot and a passenger, I refuse to accept the status quo that places the lives of our constituents in the hands of civil servants who are overworked and utterly exhausted,” Duckworth continued.

Congress has put together a 5-year FAA reauthorization bill, but it has yet to pass.

And if this latest government shutdown goes ahead, the air traffic controllers won’t get their paychecks. They’ll still have to work, they’ll still have to pull overtime, but they won’t get paid. And I have to think that for a few, it might be the last straw, and they’ll just quit.

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Does anybody think this makes sense?

Does it make sense that, at that Senate hearing, Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, basically had to ask Congress to do something?

“It only takes one. It only takes one missed warning to become a tragedy, one incorrect response to destroy public confidence in a system that has been built over decades,” Homendy said. “These incidents must serve as a wake-up call before something more catastrophic occurs. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this.”

“We issued this same warning in 2007. We issued the same warning after the 2017 incident at SFO, where an A320 came close to colliding with an A340 and three other airliners on a taxiway,” Homendy said. “The incident aircraft flew over the A340 at an altitude of 60 feet before it began climbing, which resulted in only 10 to 20 feet of vertical separation. All told, more than 1000 people on the taxiway that day were at imminent risk of serious injury or death.”

So, while we don’t know what precisely led to that collision in Japan, it’s a warning that the price of failure is very high.

Give the FAA its money. Do it now. I want well-rested, well-paid controllers and state-of-the-art equipment, and I don’t care what it costs – just that it works. Every time.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: I don’t care what it costs, just make sure our planes are safe