NTSB chair says US near-miss aviation incidents 'clear warning sign'

FILE PHOTO: National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy testifies before the Senate during a hearing about the train derailment in Washington

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -An increase in serious near-miss aviation incidents is a "clear warning sign that the U.S. aviation system is sharply strained," National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy will tell a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday.

Homendy, who will testify at a Senate Commerce aviation subcommittee hearing with the Federal Aviation Administration and aviation unions, will tell senators in testimony seen by Reuters that the aviation system has a lack of sufficient technology to prevent runway incursions.

The hearing comes as Congress, airlines and regulators grapple with an increase in serious aviation close calls and look for ways to reduce them.

"We cannot ignore or avoid the warning signs of strain from all these recent events," Homendy's written testimony says calling for "more technology for runway and cockpit alerting... We cannot wait until a fatal accident forces action."

FAA official Tim Arel will say even though overall runway incursions have fallen slightly "we recognize that any number is an unacceptable safety risk."

The NTSB has opened seven investigations into near-miss incidents since January, including some potentially catastrophic.

Air Line Pilots Association President Jason Ambrosi will tell senators it "is clear the system is under strain, and we need to aggressively pursue solutions to stop these events."

A government watchdog report said air traffic facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks.

National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Rich Santa says in written testimony staffing shortages are forcing controllers to work mandatory overtime, six-day workweeks and 10-hour days.

"Over the long-term, this will continue to introduce unnecessary risk into the system," he will say.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Marguerita Choy)