FAA reports ‘horrifying’ 300 near-collisions a year in US airspace

Planning a trip to or around the US anytime soon? Well, don’t be surprised if you hear this announcement from the flight deck.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome aboard our flight today. In the interests of public transparency the FAA requires us to alert you to the following. Firstly, please note that I am, as the commander of this aircraft, prone to human error which contributes significantly to the statistics concerning commercial airline disasters. You should also be aware that since the pandemic, the entire air traffic control system in this great country of ours is under-staffed and therefore chronically overworked and chronically fatigued. (Pauses for a wry chuckle) Believe me, folks, if there’s one worker you don’t want falling asleep on the job, it’s an air traffic controller. The FAA also wants you to know that many of these 300 near-collisions in US airspace happen on take-off. We’re about to do that right now, so best you tighten that ol’ seatbelt. Real tight. Remember, we’re talking collision here, so there’ll be an equal amount of prangs happening on landing.

That’s all for now, folks. So sit back, relax, and wish us accident-prone pilots good luck.”

They say ignorance is bliss

Thanks FAA. I’ve never really agreed with that until now.

There were 46 near misses last month alone. Many of which were averted only at the last second. One-one-thousand-two. That’s a second.

And here’s an interesting fact which you definitely do not want to know.

If you’re involved in a cruising altitude collision, you’ll be hitting another aircraft at an impact speed of 1000 knots. That’s almost 2000 km/h. Good luck surviving that one.

But wait, there’s more. If you’re about to be involved in a collision on take off or landing, your speed will be so slow that the aircraft will have no stability at all. So the maneuverability of your aircraft is, well, zero. Your plane will not be able to get out of the way, no matter how lightning fast your pilot’s reflexes.

300 near-collisions a year. Because of pilot error. Exhausted air traffic controllers. And the most overcrowded airspace on the planet. Hmmm. Don’t now go all binary on me and think that the statistics are still in your favour, because of the vast number of US flights a day. (30000, in fact.)  Whilst that may be true, we still get on to an airplane because we trust the skill and alertness of the personnel and the efficiency of the system to keep us safe. Well, that’s pretty much gone, hasn’t it? Pure mathematics aside, the greater the accidents, the more fatalities.

Two months ago, the Jerusalem Post reported that MIT are testing an AI autopilot algorithm that will stabilize an aircraft at slow speeds in the event of an impending collision, so that the pilot can avert safely.

It’s quite heartening to know that technology is stepping up to the plate to end this statistic of 300 near-collisions a year.

Tech, the Stage is Yours

But we need more, obviously. Fast. Perhaps we need jet engines with a higher altitude capability, to increase available airspace. But they’ll have to run on biofuels. Perhaps we need to go back to pre-covid employment numbers for air traffic controllers. But then we’ll need more money. Perhaps we need to develop teleportation, for heaven’s sake. But something must happen, or else air travel will soon not be safer than road travel, as air travel never fails to remind us just after there’s been an accident.

I just wish my kids were still kids. So I could ground them.

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