The US aviation regulator warns of new security risks from a pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Steve Dickson pilots a Boeing 737 MAX on the takeoff of a test flight from Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, USA, September 30, 2020 Mike Siegel / Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The head of the US Federal Aviation Administration, Steve Dickson, warned on Tuesday of a changed industry after the COVID-19 pandemic that shook air traffic over the past year and created new safety risks that must be addressed.

“The industry that existed last March in many respects no longer exists today,” Dickson said at City Hall on commercial aviation safety shown on social media, calling for the withdrawal of veteran pilots, a new fleet of complex aircraft and fewer international flights.

“All of these changes create a whole new set of stressors that can inject new security risks into the system,” he said.

Although the risk of a fatal crash in U.S. commercial aviation has dropped by 94% since 1997 thanks to improvements in aviation safety, Dickson said the industry must proactively curb new safety risks by understanding the impact of the pandemic.

He cited additional training and increased industry oversight as possible measures.

“COVID-19 has created a huge amount of disruption and change in our system at a breathtaking rate,” he said.

Airlines have parked planes and drastically reduced their workforce, mainly through early retirement programs, as a sharp drop in demand as a result of the pandemic prevails.

Dickson also said the agency acted quickly to finalize a new emergency airworthiness directive that would require intensified inspections of all Boeing 777-200 aircraft with Pratt & Whitney PW400 engines after an engine failure on a United Airlines flight forced an emergency landing on Saturday.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Edited by Richard Chang