Are Austin airport’s safety protocols keeping up with increased traffic?

Monday, March 20, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

Is the city doing enough to ensure Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is staying safe amid record increases in traffic and historic personnel and infrastructure constraints? The outgoing chair of the Austin Airport Advisory Commission is asking that question.

During a briefing to the commission at its March 8 meeting regarding the ongoing investigation into a February incident in which two aircraft nearly collided on the runway, staff reported that the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, the agencies leading the investigation, released an initial report on March 2.

Airport airfield operations and the airport’s executive staff leadership team are supporting federal investigators as they complete the full report, which could take up to a year.

During the discussion, Chair Eugene Sepulveda said he wanted to go on record expressing his concern about safety protocols at ABIA.

Last year was ABIA’s busiest on record, with the airport seeing a 55 percent increase in passengers compared to 2021. Twenty-one million passengers traveled through ABIA in 2022. The number of flights has also increased by 35 percent.

“We need confirmation that the safety protocols and personnel and infrastructure have kept up with the increased flights coming in and out of Austin-Bergstrom,” Sepulveda said. “And I know everyone has resource constraints. I hope that Austin will work with the FAA to confirm that our increased traffic isn’t diluting our safety protocols or the resources available for safety.”

Sepulveda also noted that Austin is on a waiting list for a new ground safety system. He said the commission had previously asked CEO Jaqueline Yaft, who recently resigned from her post, about the safety system, but Yaft didn’t have any additional information about when Austin might receive it.

“I’m just hoping that we would be more aggressive in making sure that we bring these federal resources to ensure safety to Austin-Bergstrom,” he said.

Tracy Thompson, airport chief administrative and external affairs officer, said she would confer with the airfield operations team to find that information.

Sepulveda, who served as chair for two years, completed his term and cycled off of the commission at the end of the March 8 meeting. In a follow-up interview with the Austin Monitor, he said the city should be proactive during a time of unprecedented growth to double check that the safety measures in place are working as intended.

“I have no information that anything has compromised or diluted air traffic safety around Austin-Bergstrom,” Sepulveda said. “And, given our growth, we ought to be aggressively confirming that nothing is compromising air traffic safety in our region.”

In response to at least five other instances of near misses like the one at ABIA, the Federal Aviation Administration recently kicked off a series of safety events. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said initial information “suggests that more mistakes than usual are happening across the system, on runways, at gates while planes are pushing back, in control towers, and on flight decks.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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This article First appeared in austinmonitor

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