Flight Risk


We’re covering near-misses on airport runways, severe weather and the Women’s World Cup.

The U.S. has not had a fatal plane crash involving a commercial airline in more than 14 years — an incredible safety achievement.

But the elaborate system that keeps planes from crashing is struggling. In recent years, air traffic controllers, who guide planes out of harm’s way, have suffered a staff shortage. Out of 313 air traffic control facilities nationwide, just three as of May met staff targets set by the Federal Aviation Administration and the union representing controllers.

Aviation officials worry the shortage is leading to close calls, in which planes nearly crash. There were at least 46 near misses involving commercial airlines last month, according to an investigation by my colleagues Sydney Ember and Emily Steel that published this morning. Those close calls are still a small fraction of the nearly 1.4 million flights in the U.S. each month, and it is not clear whether the rate is increasing.

But any close call is dangerous, potentially leading to a fatal crash that breaks America’s safety streak. As a spokesman for the F.A.A. said, “One close call is one too many.” The agency’s goal is to reduce the number of such near misses to zero. Staff shortages make that harder.

“The controllers we’ve talked to take real pride in their job, and they work really hard to make sure these planes are safe,” Emily told me. “But they’re worried that the circumstances around their jobs could make them slip up and that those mistakes could be very dangerous.”

What is behind the shortage? Part of the problem goes back decades: In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of air traffic controllers who were on strike. The F.A.A. then hired new controllers. Many retired when they became eligible to do so 20 years later. And now, another 20 years later, another wave of controllers is retiring.

Chronic disinvestment in government services is another cause. Over the past decade, the number of fully trained controllers has fallen 10 percent, while airport traffic has increased 5 percent. The F.A.A. has asked for more money to increase hiring. Even if the agency receives those funds, it will take time to hire new controllers and train them.

In the meantime, the U.S. risks more close calls. Some in aviation worry it’s only a matter of time before the overworked system fails to stop a deadly crash.

“Aviation officials will say that we have the safest system in the world,” Sydney said. “But underlying that success are risks and issues that deserve attention.”

  • In some near misses, airplanes have come so close to each other that officials described the encounters as “skin to skin.”

  • Do you work in aviation and have concerns about safety? Sydney and Emily would like to hear from you.

Daniel Dreifuss for The New York Times
  • Rain and wind in Los Angeles toppled trees, downed power lines and closed roads. Follow updates here, as California wakes up to assess the damage.

  • This storm is an extraordinarily rare event for the state. Scientists will have to figure out whether it is influenced by human-made climate change.

  • Hilary made landfall on Mexico’s Baja California coast yesterday, causing floods and mudslides. In California, officials closed parks and beaches and canceled events.

  • An earthquake — unrelated to the tropical storm — struck northwest of Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. No damage or injuries were reported.

  • Track Hilary’s path and see the latest forecast.

  • After a fight over a reservoir on the day of the Maui fire, the governor loosened regulations about how Hawaii allocates water.

  • In the South, humidity has been relentless, persisting for days and bringing a record number of heat warnings.

  • The number of Republican presidential candidates who have qualified for Wednesday’s debate remains unclear.

  • Here’s where the candidates stand on major issues.

  • Mike Pence said he knew of no widespread declassification of documents by Donald Trump, undercutting one of Trump’s main defenses against charges of endangering national security.

  • Ron DeSantis shifted his campaign message to focus more on the economy and border security.

  • Border guards in Saudi Arabia have opened fire on African migrants, killing hundreds of people in a recent 15-month period, Human Rights Watch said.

  • Ukrainian commanders say their forces are in better shape than months ago after an infusion of troops, training and equipment.

  • A man shot and killed the owner of a California clothing shop after disparaging the store’s Pride flag.

  • An anticorruption crusader won Guatemala’s presidency.

  • Ecuador’s presidential election looks headed for a runoff between an establishment leftist and a businessman.

  • Police unions are demanding extra pay for wearing body cameras.

If Republicans narrow their primary field, they can keep Trump from the party’s presidential nomination, Christopher Sununu argues.

Elections produce entitled, Machiavellian leaders. Picking randomly would be better for democracy, Adam Grant argues.

Employers claim they’ll hire workers without college degrees. But having one still matters, Ben Wildavsky writes.

Gail Collins and Bret Stephens discuss Hawaii and the Republican presidential debate.

Haptic suits translate music into vibrations.

Wearable tunes: Feel music through your skin.

Psychedelics: Ecstasy is considered one of the safer illegal drugs. But there are risks.

Metropolitan Diary: Furniture shopping like a New Yorker.

Lives Lived: Ron Cephas Jones was an admired actor in theater and on television, including on “This Is Us,” for which he won two Emmy Awards by drawing on his youth of drug addiction and temporary homelessness. He died at 66.

The Spain team after winning the World Cup.Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

Victory in disharmony: Spain overcame a squad revolt and a key injury to win the tournament, beating England, 1-0, in the final.

Unpleasant reminder: The president of Spain’s soccer federation kissed the forward Jennifer Hermoso on the lips during the medals ceremony. Sexism has plagued Spanish women’s soccer.

Growth movement: The final brought out fans of all stripes and rallied girls in England and Spain to hit the field and play.

“So many problems”: England faced its own challenges in advancing to the final.

Next stop, major: Coco Gauff won the Cincinnati Open yesterday, a week before the U.S. Open.

Rock bottom: The worst division in M.L.B. history? Welcome to a weekend in the AL Central.

Frustration: The golfer Scottie Scheffler’s problem was on display yesterday — his putter.

Recreating a bygone China: Over the past few decades, China’s government razed rural houses to make way for the highways and high-rises that propelled the country’s modernization. Now, a group of artists are creating miniature replicas of the homes, for both an older generation nostalgic for simpler times and a younger generation who never got to live them. “If we don’t leave a record, those born after the 2000s won’t have any impression of this,” said Shen Peng, a miniaturist.

  • Even a bad accent in a movie can be a lot of fun, Kyle Buchanan writes.

Sarah Anne Ward for The New York Times

Sweeten pork chops with a cherry-pepper sauce.

Discover America’s regional hot dogs.

Clean smelly sneakers in the washing machine.

Sharpen your knives.

Take our latest news quiz.

Here is today’s Spelling Bee. Yesterday’s pangrams were linocut and locution.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — German

P.S. Hawaii became the 50th state 64 years ago today.

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox. Reach our team at themorning@nytimes.com.


Leave a Reply