Buttigieg visits OKC to highlight focus on airspace safety, reliability
The aviation industry is facing its most transformative decade since the introduction of the jet engine, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Thursday on a visit to Oklahoma City.
Buttigieg toured the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, where air traffic controllers are trained.
He said their work was critical in view of rapid changes in the industry. He cited drones occupying the national airspace, artificial intelligence coming online, and the development of electric-powered vertical landing and takeoff craft, along with a robust commercial spaceflight economy.
He said the Monroney Center was at the forefront of keeping access to the skies safe and reliable.
"I'm standing in the middle of what might be the single location in the United States of America that can do the most to help address this because of the expertise that's here, because of the insight that is here, because of the equipment that's here to run scenarios and test different things," Buttigieg said.
Along with being the primary training school for new air traffic controllers, the FAA facility in Oklahoma is host to a wide range of programs that interface with nearly every critical aspect of the National Airspace System, including airports, air traffic organization, aviation safety, commercial space transportation and security and hazardous materials safety.
As the nation's aviation and aerospace system meets 21st-century technology, Buttigieg noted the importance of work done at FAA to understand the modern challenges of that system. There have been several close calls at airports recently, where aircraft have come dangerously close to crashing into each other.
These kind of near-misses were happening at a rate of 10 to 15 per year over the past decade, said Buttigieg.
"Right now, they seem to be happening at roughly double that. And while that means they continue to be extremely rare, I don't want to see any of those. None of us do," he said.
When there's an airplane crash, federal investigations take place, and heavy scrutiny is applied to find out what went wrong.
"We need to have that same mentality around the near misses so that they don't happen frequently enough that there will be a crash," he said.
Buttigieg visited Oklahoma City while on a cross-country tour of airports to learn about FAA-funded safety improvements. Before visiting Oklahoma, the secretary flew into North Carolina, Arkansas and Texas. While in Oklahoma City, he met with Gov. Kevin Stitt and Mayor David Holt, toured the FAA center and planned to visit the tower at Will Rogers World Airport.
The commercial passenger side of the country's aviation system has faced challenges recently with several high-profile disruptions to flight scheduling that caused the highest rate of cancellations in a decade. Some of those disruptions were caused, at least in part, by antiquated scheduling systems used by airlines.
Buttigieg acknowledged the FAA's own challenges in upgrading old systems.
"There's a reason why there is a lot of technology that has been around for a very long time, and that's because it works, and we have to preserve the extraordinary success of the system as we know it," he said. "But that doesn't mean you can just pickle yesterday's technology and expect it to work for us forever."
When asked what the U.S. Department of Transportation is doing to ensure the reliability of commercial passenger flights, Buttigieg said the biggest thing regulators can do is hold airlines accountable for outcomes.
"We're not going to go in and tell them what their software package ought to be or something like that. But we are going to make sure that they're held to a very high standard in terms of how they treat their passengers. And that includes making sure they're ready to service the tickets that they sell," he said.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Buttigieg visits OKC to highlight airspace safety, reliability