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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aviation Leaders Accept Need to Improve Safety

CHICAGO -- World aviation leaders couldn't work out a long-sought treaty governing global skies, but they did agree on the biggest threat to their flourishing industry: safety problems.

From modernizing a strapped U.S. air traffic control system to adding runways to sharing more data to avoid crashes, international transport officials and airline executives who met here for two days conveyed an urgent need for change to safely deal with unprecedented growth in air travel.

In a joint statement ending the first international aviation conference since Franklin D. Roosevelt called one here in 1944, dozens of participating nations on Tuesday renewed a commitment to safety and security as their No. 1 priority.

"Aviation is very safe, and accidents are very rare," Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told conference delegates. But "is there a serious safety problem? Yes."

Leo Mullin, chairman and chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines, agreed: "We do have a safety crisis in aviation. Thank God, the loss of life has been so [comparatively little]," he said, citing some narrow escapes on U.S. runways this year.

American officials and airline chiefs would have preferred the conference realize FDR's goal by adopting a treaty to create freer global skies by dispensing with air restrictions.

U.S. officials say such an accord, never achieved due to various national interests, would sharply increase air capacity and trade and improve safety.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater nonetheless pronounced the Washington-sponsored conference a success as a rare forum raising "open skies" and other industry concerns among more than 60 nations' transport ministers and some 20 airline chief executives.

Despite a strong overall record, safety has become a growing worry for airlines as the skies fill with more passenger and cargo planes and air traffic controls get overloaded.

Fatal crashes aside, Hall cited three near-collisions this year on U.S. runways - at Chicago's O'Hare, New York's John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles airports - as evidence of a serious safety problem.

A strained air traffic control system that Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey says needs modernizing is blamed for much of the problem, along with the failure to adopt a global air treaty.

Video cameras are one of the newest suggestions for improving air safety. Garvey and Hall said they're taking a harder look at possibly requiring that the cockpits of commercial airplanes be equipped with cameras.

Some pilots' groups oppose the idea, but it appears to have gained ground since 217 people died Oct. 31 in the EgyptAir crash into the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. investigators suspect the Egyptian co-pilot was responsible.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, says a cockpit camera would have cleared up any mystery over the pilot's behavior.

Durbin, who urged the government to mandate cameras, met with Garvey on Monday.

The FAA administrator would not confirm Durbin's assessment that she endorsed his idea.

Hall said he favors the idea and will recommend that cameras first be installed in smaller planes that don't contain voice recorders, or black boxes.