Shostack + Friends Blog


Airline Close Calls

Thoughts on an article on near misses An AI image of two modern 737 airplanes nearly missing each other, styled as a 1950s pulp paperback cover

Many people have been sending me the New York Times story, Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known. The article analyzed both private FAA records, and the ASRS database maintained by NASA, and comments “The number of such near misses in the NASA database [...] has more than doubled over the past decade, though it is unclear whether that reflects worsening safety conditions or simply increased reporting.”

A few comments:

  • First, I’m glad to see ASRS getting attention and use. The system of confidential reports, anonymously released being analyzed by outsiders illustrates a key strength, and one we should borrow for cybersecurity.
  • You might be asking, why does it take the Times to do this analysis? Shouldn’t NASA be doing it? First, it’s possible that NASA has done it, but not trumpeted the results. ASRS doesn’t tend to be flashy. Second, I understand that the FAA hasn’t asked for a budget increase for ASRS in a long time. It’s reasonable to think that ASRS could do more with a bit more money.
  • It’s clear that a big chunk of the problem is a lack of Air Traffic Control staffing. This has been a visible problem for forty years, and requires some political will to properly budget. We probably also need an approach where getting medical help for medical issues doesn’t cause traffic controllers to lose their jobs.
  • Overall, while this is not great, I prefer to see near misses reported, rather than covered up. It’s worrisome, but hiding the issues makes them harder to fix, not easier.

Previous writings on learning lesson learning lessons from aviation.

Image: Midjourney, two modern 737 airplanes nearly missing each other, styled as a 1950s pulp paperback cover