NTSB Roundtable: State of Runway Incursions: A Path Forward

​​​​​Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning and welcome to the National Transportation Safety Board. I’m Jennifer Homendy, and I’m honored to serve as Chair of the NTSB. 

With me today are several of my colleagues in the Office of Aviation Safety. 

To my right is Tim LeBaron, the Director of our Office of Aviation Safety. He’ll be switching in and out with Brice Banning, who serves as a Senior Aviation Accident Investigator in our Air Carrier and Space Investigations Division. 

To my left is Betty Koschig, a Transportation Safety Specialist for the NTSB and a former air traffic controller. 

We also have on the panel Warren Abrams, one of our Aviation Accident Investigators focused on Operational Factors; Jason Fedok, our Lead Survival Factors Investigator; and Shawn Williams, a Senior Aviation Accident Investigator out of our Central Region. 

Many others within the NTSB contributed to this event. I want to thank them all for their hard work and dedication. 

I’m positive today will be a success. We will focus on a path forward.

If you’re new to the NTSB or watching this event later on our YouTube channel, here’s what we do: we’re a small but mighty agency of 415 (and growing!) highly skilled professionals dedicated to transportation safety. 

We investigate accidents in all modes of transportation: aviation, rail and transit, highway, pipeline, marine, and commercial space. 

Once our investigation is complete, we issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing that accident from reoccurring. 

Yet, our mission goes beyond investigating when something goes wrong.

To make our skies safer, the NTSB must be proactive.

That’s why we’re here today. And why I’m excited to see all of you in this room.

Since 2017, the number of runway incursions has fluctuated. I expect we’ll have some updated numbers today from FAA today, and I look forward to their presentation.

The most dangerous incursions, the closest calls, appear to be on the rise. These are the ones FAA defines as Category A or B events — incidents with a “significant potential” for collision or in which a collision was “narrowly avoided.” 

This year alone, there’ve been a total of 365 runway incursions, six of which the NTSB is investigating.

One of these six is a “Category A” event that occurred in Austin this past February. 

How close was this close call? Within 115 feet…with 131 souls onboard the two aircraft. 

As stated in our preliminary report, two crewmembers were on the flight deck of the FedEx plane — two crewmembers who I believe prevented a disaster from occurring in Austin that day. 

At an altitude of about 150 feet, the First Officer called a go-around when he saw the silhouette of the Southwest plane — in low visibility conditions — and soon after called on the Southwest crew to abort their takeoff. 

Those two crewmembers are heroes in my book.

We’re also investigating two wrong-runway landings that happened last June. 

One was a cargo plane in Tulsa with two crew members on board. The other was a passenger flight in Pittsburgh, where 174 people were at risk. 

While we won’t be discussing our open investigations today, these events should serve as a wake-up call. 

The sobering truth is that it only takes one. Any of these events could’ve had devastating consequences…could’ve led to tragedy…to more bereaved families.

This is not the first time we’ve convened an event on runway incursions; the last time we did so was in 2017.

But we’re not here to repeat the past. 

Today is different because we have more voices at the table than we did in 2017. 

The reason is simple: more voices make us safer. No one person or group can have all the answers.

Many of these new voices are from labor. We can’t expect to make our skies safer without the input of frontline workers. 

One union president recently told me his members, who drive on airport surfaces, are desperate for better training. 

Training is certainly an issue across the entire industry.

So is staffing. 

Low staffing levels can have a significant impact on safety. I believe the FAA is looking to hire about 3,000 air traffic controllers in the coming years. 

Funding is an issue. 

I don’t work for the FAA, but I will advocate for more funding for the FAA. 

If we want to upgrade existing technologies to prevent runway incursions, implement new technologies, invest in projects to reconfigure or construct new taxiways, install new lighting, modernize systems so that we are better able to use data in decision making, and build upon an already highly skilled workforce…that takes resources. 

That’s an investment in safety and in service — an investment I believe the traveling public wants and expects of the federal government. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m relentless when it comes to safety. But here’s the thing: so is everyone else at this table. Frankly, in this audience as well. 

All of us are partners in safety. Not a single one of us wants to see a tragedy occur. 

We all may have different views on the path forward to prevent such tragedies, but we all want progress. 

So, today is about getting down to brass tacks. 

It’s about finding a path forward. 

It’s about digging into the areas where we clearly need action.

​It’s about asking ourselves the tough questions on why we haven’t made more progress.

And, most importantly, today is about discussing and then committing to real solutions to prevent disaster. 

Because we need action — and we need it NOW. 

This is a real challenging time for aviation. 

The industry is ramping back up from the pandemic, during which there were massive layoffs and retirements. 

A new workforce is coming in; they need to be adequately trained. 

Those who were out during the pandemic need to be re-trained.

Our airspace — already the most complex in the world — is about to get even more congested: Drones. Advanced air mobility. Even more commercial space launches and reentries. 

How we maintain our gold standard of safety amid all these challenges by preventing runway incursions: that is today’s mandate.

Let’s dive in.