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Sullenberger: Recent Airline Incidents Are "Concerning"; Passenger Hurt On Turbulent Flight Recounts Terrifying Experience; NTSB Chair At Summit: Close Calls "Must Serve As A Wake-Up Call". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 16, 2023 - 21:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right, here's the problem. When the stuff washes up, it rots, and it smells! And Jimmy Buffett will never ever write a song about it!

The CNN PRIMETIME Special, "FLIGHT RISK: TURBULENT TIMES FOR AIR TRAVEL" with Kate Bolduan, starts, right now.


JFK TOWER: Delta 1943, wind 350 18 gust 24, Runway 4 Left cleared for takeoff.

DL1943: Cleared for takeoff, runway 4 Left, Delta 1943.

JFK TOWER: 11918 Kennedy Tower runway 4 Left (ph).



Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, close calls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would have been catastrophic had a collision taken place.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was really hard to know how long we were going to survive, trying to breathe in that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dangerous turbulence.

ROD WILLIAMS, PASSENGER ON UNITED 777: It certainly felt like a roller-coaster. It's one of those things where you start to count your blessings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unruly passengers!










UNIDENTIFIED MALE: System meltdowns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been delayed three times. There are no more flights leaving today that would get us there on time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America's aviation industry, facing headwinds, and life-and-death questions, about the safety of passengers, and the future of flying.

CNN takes you into the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Setting Airlines (ph) 150.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the runway, and inside the tower.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get the answers.

"FLIGHT RISK," a CNN PRIMETIME Special, starts right now.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Good evening, I'm Kate Bolduan.

The FAA is holding a safety summit, to figure out what the heck is happening in America's skies. And tonight, we're getting answers, with a visual in-depth look, at some of the biggest concerns. We have simulations and first-hand accounts.

Pete Muntean, CNN Transportation Correspondent, and certified pilot, even takes us up in a plane.

And Captain "Sully" Sullenberger takes us inside a flight simulator.

First, let's start with all of these near-collisions.

We're seeing far too many close calls, on U.S. runways. Near-collision incidents have been reported, at multiple airports, just this year. The hard numbers though, they can be confusing.

Over the last two decades, the number of what the FAA calls runway incursions, it has been climbing. But the really close calls have actually come down, from a high, in 2007. And here's one reason. The FAA's data, for these types of incursions, this year, it only goes through January. Yet, the rate that we're seeing this year is concerning.

So, to understand what we're talking about, let's examine what they mean by near-miss. On one hand, there's the official aviation definition, of near-miss, but on the other, a near-miss is already way too close for comfort for anyone.

Take what happened at New York's JFK Airport, in January. And American Airlines 777 was getting ready to depart for London. At the same time, a Delta 737 was getting ready, to take off, for the Dominican Republic.

Now keep in mind this is JFK. There are four runways. On average, this airport handles more than a 1,000 flights every day.

So, the American jet was on an active runway, meaning that takeoffs and landings were happening.

But over here, the Delta jet is gearing up for takeoff, already going more than 100 miles an hour. That is when the Delta pilots hear this.



Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!

Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!

DL1943: Rejecting.


BOLDUAN: Now, Pete Muntean is here with how these busy runways actually look, from a pilot's perspective.

Pete, what did you find?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT, LICENSED PILOT: Well, what's so interesting here, Kate is that this is unprecedented.

Seven dramatic runway incursions, back-to-back, we've never seen a string like this. We're talking about planes hundreds of feet apart, seconds away from disaster. The official term, based on the FAA definition, is called a runway incursion.

But we just wanted to show folks, simply how close planes can get, where the problem areas are, and where the safeguards are, to avoid an incident that could be a disaster.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): On any given day, in the United States, airlines operate 45,000 commercial flights, taking off, landing, and taxiing, at some of the busiest airports, in the world. Delivering millions of passengers, precisely, and safely, can be a delicate dance. One mistake can bring it all to a halt.

BILL ENGLISH, FORMER NTSB INSPECTOR: Runway incursions have been around since we've had more than one runway.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): Former NTSB investigator, Bill English, recalls the Tenerife disaster, of 1977. Two Boeing 747s slammed into each other, on the runway. More than 500 people died.

ENGLISH: Runway incursions have been a pretty tough nut, for decades, in aviation.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Bill and I, both pilots and flight instructors, met at flight school, Aviation Adventures, in Virginia. Here, student pilots are taught about runway incursions, almost immediately in their training.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Let's try it now (ph).


MUNTEAN (voice-over): In the pilot seat, of this Diamond Twin Star trainer, Bill and I are setting out, on a demonstration, of what goes into a runway incursion, and what keeps pilots, from making mistakes that could be deadly.

ENGLISH: There are a lot of layers built in here, a lot of protections, to prevent even when something does go wrong, from it becoming catastrophic.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Five cameras are rolling to show some solutions, are as simple as markings on taxiways that lead to runways.

The yellow "Hold Short Line" reminds pilots not to enter a runway, a holy grail of paint, matched by crucial phrases, between pilots and air traffic control.

ATC: You can move up to and hold short of runway 35.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Hold short 35 Skyventures 262.

We had to read back all the short instructions, very good.

And why is that so critical when it comes to a runway incursions?

ENGLISH: Well first off confirm that it was heard. Confirm that you got the correct runway. Those are the big ones, right there.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Confirmation and communication are key. MUNTEAN (on camera): Here for takeoff 35 Skyventures 262.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): This Executive Airport, in Leesburg, lacks some of the technology that the FAA is deploying, at busier airports, nationwide. Warning lights embedded in the pavement of taxiways, and runways, even new radar that can track planes, and other vehicles, on the ground.

ENGLISH: Power back to 50 percent.

MUNTEAN (on camera): I've got the airport in sight.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): We are navigating to a landing, at Dulles International Airport, one of the D.C. area's busiest, with four runways, three of them are parallel to each other. Even though we're landing in clear weather, Bill dialed in a radio beacon, used for poor visibility landings, to point us, at the proper runway.

I'm approaching the airport here. And in the interest of time, we've edited out some of the turns directed by air traffic control, to line us up, with the runway.

ATC: Skyventures 262, Dulles is 10 o'clock five miles.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Airport in sight Skyventures 262.

ATC: Skyventures 262 turn left heading zero four zero cleared visual approach one center.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): I've been cleared for the approach.

ATC: Skyventures 262 contact Dulles tower 134.42.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Over to tower Skyventures 262.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): And now, I've been cleared to land.

ENGLISH: Let it come down.

Come down.

There you go. Nice, best description (ph).

See, it's lower than you think.

MUNTEAN (on camera): It really is.

ENGLISH: All right, there we go.

So, we are rolling. We got Yankee Six coming up here.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Yes.

ENGLISH: That's going to be our first turn off to the right.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Yankee Six is the taxiway we'll use to exit the runway. Turning exactly where controllers tell you on the ground, is just as important as the commands given in the air.

ATC: Skyventures 262, you can turn right at Yankee Six or Yankee Seven contact ground point six two.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Over to ground point six two Skyventures 262.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Bill points out to me how he's using an iPad app to track where we are on the airport grounds.

MUNTEAN (on camera): How important is being aware of where you are, on the airport, especially in a busy airport, like Dulles, here?

ENGLISH: Well that's absolutely critical, because we -- look where we are right here. We've got airplanes coming in and coming out of the terminal, there, both directions, all the time.

MUNTEAN (on camera): In an airport like this, there are multiple different runways, aligned with one another.


MUNTEAN (on camera): But I feel like it becomes even more precarious, at an airport, when that has criss-crossing runways.

ENGLISH: Yes, exactly.

MUNTEAN (on camera): When things make the news, like runway incursions, and you have to be almost extra-vigilant, as you're flying.

ENGLISH: I mean, runway environment, especially at an airport like this, you absolutely have to be extra-vigilant. And with what we've seen lately, I think everybody's up got their head on a swivel now.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Yes.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): We are now taxiing to take off from a different runway, at Dulles, runway 30, which crosses in front of the northbound runways we just used to land.

Air traffic control tells us to take off with a flight approaching those runways, from the South.

ATC: Skyventures 262, fly runway heading runway 30 clear for takeoff. Wind 360 at 3.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Clear for takeoff 30 Skyventures 262.

ENGLISH: Here we go. Runway 30 is on the pavement, and 30 is on our heading indicator.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Got it.

ENGLISH: That's a double-check. Power come up. Power to 20. And really we want to--

MUNTEAN (on camera): Got it--

ENGLISH: --we want to go quick for that guy--

MUNTEAN (on camera): Got it.

ENGLISH: --just go into the center.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Airspeed alive.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): My normal flying is typically from a smaller country airport. It's not as busy, and there's no air traffic control tower.

What's clear, from this demonstration, is that the nature of these incidents has not changed. But they have put a new spotlight on safety.

ENGLISH: I think dealing with the problems? That's what we do in aviation. We try to build that robust system, where safety is paramount.

All right, coming on back. It comes down. Hold it right there.


ENGLISH: Just hold it right there, perfect.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Got the hang of it on the second one.

ENGLISH: You got it!


BOLDUAN: Now, Pete will be back with us, in just a moment.

But now let's get the view, from the air traffic control tower.

Omar Jimenez is here with that for us.

Omar, what did you learn?


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for starters, that when you're delayed on the runway, there's a whole lot more going on behind-the- scenes than you'd think.


JIMENEZ: I mean it just go around the corner for this, we went all the way to the University of North Dakota, one of the best schools, in the country, for this.

And they brought us into their air control simulator, not just to show us how they train students, but also to give us insight, to what these air traffic controllers may have been seeing, during some of the more recent significant incursions, we've seen, at U.S. airports.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Grand Forks, North Dakota, home to one of the largest aviation schools, in the country.

JIMENEZ (on camera): You can place planes anywhere you want. You can change the weather.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): And, at the University of North Dakota, air traffic control can be simulated.

COLT ISEMINGER, INSTRUCTOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA, DEPARTMENT OF AVIATION: Really slow to really busy, we can have aircraft coming in on final, we can have no aircraft.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Or for when things don't go as planned.

In a January JFK airport incident, an American Airlines flight crossed the runway, in front of a Delta Airlines flight cleared for takeoff.

And while the NTSB is still investigating, through the simulation, we see, it might have simply come down to communication.

ISEMINGER: Most likely, the American aircraft was on ground control. So, they're on a different position. So, as the controller that's controlling Delta, I'm not actually talking to that American traffic.

JIMENEZ (on camera): I'm here. I'm on ground control.


JIMENEZ (on camera): All right. I've got American Airlines.

Meanwhile, you're in your own world.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Talking to Delta.

ISEMINGER: I am going to do something with my Delta aircraft first, tell them to cancel takeoff clearance, traffic on the runway.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The actual radio traffic sounded a little different.



Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!

Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!

DL1943: Rejecting.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Air traffic controllers use a combination of radar, communication with pilots, and relying on what they can see, from the tower, at least when they can see.

JIMENEZ (on camera): Oof! OK. Now I'm stressed!

ISEMINGER: The controller, from their vantage point, in the tower, is not able to see the actual runway environment.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Fog and low visibility were the conditions, in Austin, Texas, in February. A FedEx plane was approaching Austin's International Airport, to land, as a Southwest plane was supposed to have taken off, from the same runway. With the weather, it would have been hard to visually confirm.

ISEMINGER: Maybe by now that Southwest should be off the ground, and maybe I should be able to see it, on my radar.


SWA708: Rolling now.

FDX 1432: Southwest, Abort.

FedEx is on the go.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): At the last minute, FedEx pulled up, an action led by the pilots, the two planes came within just 100 feet of each other. They're the types of scenarios the school trains for, in the simulator.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Country 80138 (ph) contact departure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what's most important is I can learn from any kind of mistakes that happen, in the real world, or even in our simulation.

JACKSON SMITH, RECENT GRADUATE, AIR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: Treating it as a learning opportunity is the biggest thing. So, we're always trying to look at the positive side out of it, and prevent it for the future.

JIMENEZ (on camera): What would you say the weight of the job is?

ISEMINGER: You hold people's lives in your hands. If I do something wrong, or if I give the wrong command, and they crash and something happens? That's the weight that you have to carry.


BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you so much for that.

So, just today, the NTSB issued a preliminary report, about an incident, involving two airliners, in Sarasota that came within 14 seconds of colliding.

I'm joined, right now, by three men, who know what it's like, to navigate the busiest runways, in this country.

Ambassador Sullenberger, of the famous "Miracle on the Hudson."

Pete is back with us, of course.

And also with us is Captain Sidney Clark, the first African American Chief Pilot, for US Airways.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.

Ambassador, first to you, what is going on with these close calls? Just what do you think?

CAPTAIN C.B. "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, FORMER U.S AMBASSADOR TO INTERNATIONAL CIVIL AVIATION ORGANIZATION: In every system that's complex, we're going to have ups and downs, in outcomes.

I'm reminded that even though we've made aviation now ultra-safe, in the United States, we have not had a fatal airline crash, in the United States, over 14 years. But that does not mean that just because we haven't had a crash, we are not doing everything as we should.

There are still improvements to be made. And we are way past the time, when we can define safety, solely as the absence of accidents. We have to do a lot more than that. We have to work harder than that, and look more closely at incidents.

And these are concerning incidents that indicate to me that in important ways, that we're really not doing everything we should be doing as well as we should do it.

BOLDUAN: I get the feeling that you don't get nervous about much. But are you nervous about the trend that we're seeing with these incursions?

SULLENBERGER: No, not yet.

I think we're also coming out of COVID. And when we cut back on flying so much, and pilots were laid off, or took time off, and then came back to work? And it takes a while to get back up to speed.


Some air traffic controllers have retired. Some facilities are understaffed, overworked, and playing catch-up. And in a system like that then there are chances for opportunities like this to have lost this operation.

BOLDUAN: Sidney -- Captain Clark, I want to play for you what Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said, kind of about all of this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It would be one thing if we found a certain piece of technology in the cockpit or a certain control tower where there were -- there were a lot of issues.

But instead what we're finding is that pilots, ground crews and controllers alike seem to be experiencing this uptick. Some have described it as a kind of rust.


BOLDUAN: And you see there, the Secretary, speaking to Pete, and saying, just that.

Captain, in your view, where's the rust coming from?


The gentlemen and ladies in the cockpit today are professionals. I think the technology has to catch up. That's my point.

That, in speaking with, a neighbor, I was reminded that his dog can't cross the invisible fence. His dog knows where the boundary is.

So, the technology is there. We've made some gains. But in all my years of flying, there was always this nagging, what can we do to stop this? And first, you ask, before you cross a runway, even though you may have been given the clearance. It's a free call. Make that free call.

"I just want to verify. Am I clear to cross runway?" so and so.

"Yes, we gave you that clearance."

"OK, fine."

And then, the CRM portion of it, the Cockpit Resource Management, to the co-pilot, "Did you hear what I heard? Did you hear what I heard?" if it's a three-man crew, or a two-man crew. That level has to be there. And I think it's there. That's part of the professionalism.

In Europe, there are some things they do as far as controlling aircraft, crossing the runway that we could learn from.

I am not concerned. I think that the technology will catch up very quickly, because people see the need.

BOLDUAN: And there's definitely a spotlight on it, now. That's for sure.

CLARK: And a lot of that has to do with social media.


CLARK: Everyone has an iPhone. Everyone has an Instagram. And so, everyone's trying to get ahead of it. Everybody's looking, I won't say, for that moment of fame. But they're looking for something. Everyone's looking for something to be relevant.

BOLDUAN: I'm really interested in the impact of the pandemic, on this. Ambassador mentioned the pandemic. What -- do you think this is still -- how much of this is fallout from the pandemic, Pete?

MUNTEAN: I think some of it is fallout from the pandemic, just because there's been a bit of a brain drain, at the airlines that the airlines sort of incentivized folks, who were very experienced, and relatively close to retirement, but not quite at retirement, just yet, to leave the airline, because they were trying to downsize.

And now, the industry is also bringing so many new people, all at once, not only at the regional airlines, but they're matriculating up to the mainline carriers, that there's a bit of a two-pronged problem here. A lot of new people and a lot of old guard leaving the industry all at once.

So, there's definitely sort of the complacency element that Sully talked about, and that others have talked about. But there's also this element that the airlines are really pushing the industry a bit too hard. There is maybe this sort of element that the airlines are just really trying to clamor to catch-up, and they're struggling and being caught a bit flatfooted.


BOLDUAN: That's what I was kind of interested in. Because when you put it all together, are we pushing the system, as it exists today, past its capacity?

SULLENBERGER: I think we're getting really close to it. And when it's close, then you have opportunities for these kinds of incidents.

That brain drain we're talking about, it's what I call a loss of tacit institutional knowledge. People with 30 years, 40 years, of flying experience, and know all the history of our safety systems, and how we've gotten where we are, know what's important, and why? They're leaving.

And so, it's the -- we have to do a better job of passing on this tacit institutional knowledge, to the next generation of pilots, so they have the same knowledge of the safety history, and why what we do is important, and why it's so important that we do it, right, on every single flight, every single day.

BOLDUAN: What's very clear is there's not what doesn't feel like a quick fix. There's no, if you will, call, a proverbial silver bullet. It's going to take a lot of people, working very hard, to make sure that it remains safe to fly.

Gentlemen, thank you, if you could stand by for me.


Because there is also then the idea of turbulence, and what that means, the turbulence scare, free falls, in the sky, sheer panic, after steep and sudden drops. Is climate change making turbulence worse?

Plus, a passenger, injured on the Lufthansa flight that recently dropped 1,000 feet mid-air.

That's when we return.


BOLDUAN: There's turbulence, which we've all experienced, one time or another. But then, there's the sheer panic, of your plane, suddenly dropping, with no warning.

Back in December, a United Boeing 777 Wide Body was leaving Maui, heading to San Francisco. The plane was just over a minute, into the flight, northwest of the island, and still climbing, when suddenly the jet plunged. It dropped about the height of the Empire State Building.

Now, the pilots did regain control, but not until they were less than 800 feet, above the ocean. For perspective, that height is not much more than the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. In other words, the plane was likely seconds from the water, something passengers were all too aware of.



WILLIAMS: At that point, it was just, it was frantic. It was -- there wasn't really enough anybody could conjure together as far as words, so there's a lot muttering, a lot of just subtle, I hate to even call them screams, but gasps, I guess, at least, of feeling like something is definitely wrong.


BOLDUAN: And something definitely was wrong.

Now, Bill Weir joins me now, for more on this.

I mean, Bill, we're clearly not talking about just some little bumps, from some bad weather.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. It's one thing to see some thunder heads in a distance, and bump into them.

It's another thing, when the skies are clear, and suddenly the plane drops hundreds of feet, and turns objects into projectiles, or lifts you, out of your seat, violently.

BOLDUAN: What does climate change have to do with this?

WEIR: It has a lot to do with the jet stream, this crown of air, at the top of the world, where when I was a boy, was pretty consistent to hold the cold air, north, and the warm air, south.

Now, we're seeing these wobbles-- BOLDUAN: Yes.

WEIR: --that are bringing these heat domes or cold snaps to Texas. And you feel that at 35,000 feet.

BOLDUAN: I mean we see the videos of the really bad versions of this. But how common is it?

WEIR: Last 14 years or so, less than 150, about 10 a year. But you got to imagine, it could be much more without stern seatbelts warnings going in. But it's going up.

They studied the North Atlantic, the most trafficked air corridors there. And over the last 40 years, severe stuff is up 15 percent.

BOLDUAN: So it is happening more and more often. Knowing all of this, what does the future look like here?

WEIR: I think it applies to all walks of life. Climate change means we need to buckle up and, of course, here more specifically than ever. 10 minute bumpy rides could turn into 30-minute really rough rides, by the middle of the century.

BOLDUAN: Bill, it's good to see you.

WEIR: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Now this.



This plane is literally up and down in the air. Food everywhere. I'm not sure if we're going to make it. Just wanted to let you know I love you. Praying -- pray for us. Pray for this does not. Love you.


BOLDUAN: Can you imagine?

I mean, that video was taken earlier this month. It's from Rolanda Schmidt, who recorded it, for her family, minutes after her plane dropped hundreds of feet, in the air.

Her Lufthansa flight was going from Texas to Germany, where it hit that so-called clear-air turbulence, we just told you about. And this happened, over Tennessee. It was so severe that the flight was diverted to Virginia. And seven passengers were taken to the hospital. Rolanda Schmidt was one of the passengers, who was injured.

And Rolanda is here with us now. Thank you. I can only imagine what it feels like, to see that video

again. Because you were injured. You sustained a concussion, among other injuries you're still recovering from today.

Can you take me to the moment on the plane, what you felt and what you experienced?

SCHMIDT: I felt shock, scariness.

At the moment of taking the third bite of my salad, just out of nowhere, the plane began to drop like, non-stop. And I could hear screaming.

And then, as quick as it dropped, it also went back up, at the same type of speed, very fast. And, at that juncture, my head, the top of my hair, where my braid is, hit where the luggage container is. And then, I went to motion my hand, and my face hit the front of the chair.

The passenger next to me grabbed under my arm, like an interlock kind of situation, to ensure that I would not move anymore, because I'm pretty tiny--


SCHMIDT: --even with things in front of me.

And I have no words other than shock, like I was utterly shocked.

I heard a lot of screaming. But what I did at the moment was pray. And I was internally praying, and just saying, "Lord, please let this not be the day that I meet my son in heaven."

And my phone, my laptop, all of that had already flown out of the way, so there was no one to say anything to, at the moment. But it stabilized, for a little bit.

And then, people started lifting up our belongings, and they were like, "Is this your phone? This your phone?" So, I got the phone back, and I thought let me tell my husband, goodbye, really quick. And I told him, "I love you. I believe I'm going to die" and da-da-da-da-da.

At that time, we thought it was over a little bit, and it still kept being unstable. But after that it was silence, for about 40 minutes, on the plane, like nobody said anything. The pilot didn't say anything. None of us said anything. We were just sitting there. And yes, that's.

BOLDUAN: After all of this, how do you feel about flying now?


SCHMIDT: Oof! I'm just going to be real. I'm scared. I asked the Lord, to give me faith and strength, to get to my daughter, because I wanted to see her play her fine -- you know, in her--

BOLDUAN: Actually you were on the plane--


BOLDUAN: --to go see her play volleyball, in Germany.

SCHMIDT: Yes, yes, well, in Greece.

BOLDUAN: In Greece, sorry.

SCHMIDT: So, I had to stop in Germany, to get to Greece. And I just said, "I do not want to fly nine hours, and then another four." So what I asked is, "Please don't put me on Lufthansa. Put me on any other airline," and they did get me there.

But what happened is, by the time I got there, I did see her game. And we were on a walking thing, and I felt like my hip was disconnected, from the socket. And I told my daughter, "I'm sorry, I got to cut my trip short. I got to get to the doctor in Texas."

And so, they flew me back early. And I've had an MRI.

And I just found out before coming here that they thought it was cracked. But what it is, is I have a torn muscle, it's severely torn. And they said that it's going to take three weeks to six, or -- I'm sorry, three weeks to three months to correct, with lots of physical therapy, with some other things. I have a contusion here, and then a concussion and other things.

So, just the thought of flying, it makes me nervous. I know that I have to fly with some of the things I do in life. But after that, it felt like I went through a tornado. And that's not something I want to experience again.

BOLDUAN: Yes, something no one wants to experience, in life.


BOLDUAN: So much to be thankful for after that, but your fear is completely understandable.

Rolanda, thank you.

SCHMIDT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: It's nice to meet you. Thank you so much.

SCHMIDT: Nice to meet you too. Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: So, let's go now to another mid-air scare. Bird strikes. They recently forced one flight, to make an emergency landing, in Cuba.

Captain Sullenberger takes us inside a simulator, next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: We all became familiar, with bird strikes, with Ambassador Sullenberger, and the "Miracle on the Hudson," more than a decade ago. And they're still wreaking havoc in the air.

A U.S.-bound flight, from Cuba, recently made an emergency landing, after engine trouble caused the cabin to fill with smoke.

Sullenberger takes CNN's Tom Foreman, inside a simulation.



TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A passenger jet takes off.

SULLENBERGER: Airspeed alive.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Climbing rapidly, over 200 miles an hour.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Then, calamity! Birds slam into the nose, wings, and engines.

That happened to then-Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, leaving New York, in 2009.

SULLENBERGER: We lost thrust on both engines very quickly, almost simultaneously.

FOREMAN (on camera): The effect was immediately catastrophic?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can land at Runway One at Teterboro.

SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Right before his miraculous landing, on the Hudson River, revisiting the moment with us, in a Dream Aero Flight Simulator, he noted he had been flying at that point, for 42 years!


SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.


SULLENBERGER: And all that time, in any air plane I've ever flown, I had never experienced, in-flight, the failure of even one engine. We train for it, but that never happened, had it happen to myself. FOREMAN (voice-over): The very first flyer, Orville Wright, hit a bird, on this flight, in 1905, so odd he wrote it in his diary.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Yet now, the number of bird strikes, in the U.S., annually, is roughly 10,000, and climbing.

It happened just weeks ago, on this flight, from Cuba to Florida, filling the cabin with smoke, and also forcing an emergency landing.

Other incidents have left a wake of damaged planes, and terrified fliers.

SULLENBERGER: And we know, as the number of flight operations increases, that the potential for a bird strike has increased.

FOREMAN (on camera): And the planes are quieter, and they're faster?

SULLENBERGER: Yes. So, it means that birds can't hear the airplanes coming, as easily.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Combine that with a recent spate of severe incidents, of air turbulence, which climate scientists say is also growing, toss in the decreasing but still unusually high number of passenger clashes. And?

SULLENBERGER: We're being warned, these most recent incidents, they're canaries in the coal mine.


BOLDUAN: Our thanks to Tom Foreman, for that.

Ambassador Sullenberger is back with me now.

You call it, canaries in a coal mine.

And I have to say, at the same time, we're talking about bird strikes, I was amazed to hear how many bird strikes there are, how often it happens. If this happens more and more, what does that mean for air travel?

SULLENBERGER: Well, bird strikes, on airplanes, are fairly rare. But they do happen. But most of the time, they don't even do any damage.

BOLDUAN: Really?

SULLENBERGER: What happened, in our case, in 2009, was very different. That's because we encountered a large flock, of large birds. Canada geese, they have five-foot or six-foot wingspans, they weigh 10 pounds or 12 pounds. And two of them went in each of our jet engines, into the core of the engines, damaging them irreparably. So, what happened to us was pretty -- an outlier.

BOLDUAN: What is -- is there anything pilots can do, in these, other than the miracle that you pulled off, when it comes to -- if they encounter it more and more, from here on out?

SULLENBERGER: Not much. I mean, we can be vigilant. But it's very difficult to see birds--


SULLENBERGER: --far enough away, to avoid them, when you're flying a jet aircraft that's traveling 318 feet per second. And you might be able to see them a mile away, but that's not very long.

What's more effective is the airport environment, how well it's managed. And if they can make the airport environment something that's not conducive, to having birds, there, no water, no--

BOLDUAN: Marshland--

SULLENBERGER: --no marshlands, no food sources.

And then, some airports actively use things that would discourage them, loud noises, that kind of thing. Having predatory birds, out there, to scare them away.

But there's not much else you can do. We get general warnings, but nothing specific enough, to really avoid birds, in a real-time basis.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Ambassador, thank you.

SULLENBERGER: Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

So, what can be done, to get some of this under control? The Head of the NTSB joins us, in a moment.



BOLDUAN: So, after a series of close calls, involving commercial flights, this year, aviation leaders, meeting at an FAA safety summit, in Virginia.

Among those leaders, the Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, who warned these recent incidents, quote, "Must serve as a wake-up call for every single one of us before something more catastrophic occurs."

That Chair, the NTSB Chair, Jennifer Homendy, joins us now.

Thank you for being here.

I noticed, just today, the FAA said that it's moving ahead, with a recommendation that you've been pushing for, which is to make black boxes on board, specifically, the cockpit voice recorder, record much longer, than it before resetting, before -- to this point, from two hours, as it is today, to something like 25 hours. How is this going to help with everything we've been discussing?

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, a great example are this six runway incursions that we're investigating? All the CVRs were overwritten.


BOLDUAN: And that means -- and that means what, when you say they're overwritten?

HOMENDY: That means we have none of the data, from the two hours that it recorded.

And that is helpful, for our investigations. But it's also helpful, for the airline operators, to improve safety.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It sounds crazy that that that isn't available, to this point that this is just now happening. It really does.

HOMENDY: That's right.

BOLDUAN: I've also heard, and this kind of blew my mind, that you've said that there's another recommendation, still not enacted that the NTSB has been pushing for, for 23 years. Technology, warning pilots -- technology will warn pilots of an impending collision, which sounds pretty important.

What's stopping it? What's standing in the way?

HOMENDY: The Federal Aviation Administration has not moved forward on that. They have stated, though, as a result of the summit, that they're going to evaluate new technologies, and technologies, to prevent runway incursions. But that's one that's been out for 23 years. And we have others that have been out, for a number of years, including--

BOLDUAN: What is it? Is it politics? Is it funding? A combination of all?

HOMENDY: It's will to get it done, and sometimes, cost. We often hear cost is a prohibiting factor. But I often say the cost of a life is priceless.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. So, is your -- you've been investigating some of the first runway incursions that we've been talking about, for several weeks, now. When you look at it all, are you seeing a broader trend at play?

HOMENDY: There's certainly an uptick, on the runway incursions. I mean, normally, you have 12 to 18 serious ones, a year. We're already investigating six.

BOLDUAN: Is there a through line? Is there -- everyone wants to know that there's -- it would feel good to know that there's one thing that can be fixed, that would make it stop. HOMENDY: Well, I think a great example is what happened at JFK. Through the technology called SDX (ph) had notified the controller, there was about to be a collision, on the runway, and they told the Delta crew to abort. So that saved it. But at some of the other airports, where we're conducting an investigation? That technology doesn't exist. That technology is at only 35 airports, right now.



BOLDUAN: The acting FAA Administrator, he was asked about all of these incidents. And the way he put it, is he said that the FAA absolutely has a grasp, on the situation.

Jennifer, do you think that they have a handle on this? What do you think of that?

HOMENDY: I think that this has served as a wake-up call, for the FAA. But I want to see us move beyond, just staring at the data, and talking to each other. We need action. And the NTSB has essentially given the FAA, a roadmap, to move forward, with safety change.

BOLDUAN: One thing that I see is some of the things that are discussed seen long-term. Is there a quick fix?

HOMENDY: There's not a quick fix. But many of the nearly 300 recommendations, we've issued, could be implemented, today, could have been implemented, years ago, when we issued them, preventing collisions, and preventing some of the incidents that we're seeing now.

BOLDUAN: Wow! Chair of the NTSB, Jennifer Homendy, thank you for coming in.

HOMENDY: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: So, there's another layer to all of this. Airlines also have to deal with unruly passengers, now.

Two flight attendants, on the frontlines, of this battle, are next.



BOLDUAN: Violent incidents, in the sky, remain another huge challenge; passengers, assaulting crew members, public intoxication, and other acts of aggression and verbal attacks.

It's a trend that spiked, during the pandemic, with COVID mask mandates. Since then, the FAA says the rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped more than 80 percent, thanks in part to hefty fines, and criminal referrals.

But the levels are still higher than pre-pandemic years. Just last week, punches were thrown, on a Southwest flight, in Dallas, while the plane was still in the ground.

Days earlier, a United flight went through this.


FRANCISCO SEVERO TORRES (ph), ACCUSED OF RAMPAGE ON UNITED FLIGHT: Well tell them to bring SWAT to shoot me down because they're going to have to shoot me down today. Remember that. Where are they diverting us? Because wherever it is, there's going to be a bloodbath everywhere.

I'm taking over this plane.


BOLDUAN: So, authorities say that man not only tried to open the plane's emergency door, he also tried to stab a flight attendant, with a broken metal spoon.

Stuff like this has people on edge, so much so that an American Airlines flight diverted, last month, out of fear a woman was trying to breach the cockpit. But she says she was just aggressively trying to get a drink.

Some perspective, on this, now, from the people, who live through it, every day.

Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants.

And Teddy Andrews, a flight attendant, who's also has more than 40 years' experience, in the airline industry.

Thank you both, for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Teddy, you've testified, before Congress, about what has happened to you. And you've said that you've lost count, when it comes to how often, you have been harassed, or threatened on, while you've been on -- while on the job.

And there's one particular encounter that you shared with the committee. What happened on that flight?

ANDREWS: We had a gentleman that was very upset, during the flight, about the mask. I was doing the mask mandate. And he was refusing to wear the mask.

And he just kept railing racial epithets, at me. The entire conversation is just every other word was the N-word. "N-word, N-word" this, "N-word" this, "I don't have to listen to you. N-word! N-word! N-word!" And so, we talked, and we talked, and we kind of tried to calm him down, some. And then, eventually he calmed down, and put his mask on. And there was no further incident. So, that ended pretty well.

BOLDUAN: How do moments like that impact how you do -- how you do the job?

ANDREWS: Well, every incident that we have, takes away from what we're -- our primary position is.


ANDREWS: We are safety professionals, first. We don't just serve drinks, and pass out pretzels. We're safety professionals. And we're on board, to make sure that we're the first primary defense, on board the aircraft.

And so, anytime there's an incident like this, it takes away from us being able to man the aircraft, and just be attentive to what's going on, in case there is an emergency that actually takes place.

BOLDUAN: Sara, something that you've said, it has stuck with me, which is "When flight attendants put their uniforms on, they don't know, if it's going to be a signal of leadership, an authority for safety, or a target for a violent attack."

Why does it feel like people are getting nuttier, in the skies, these days?


SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Well, I think conditions have changed. Pre-pandemic, all the airlines went down, to minimum staffing, and they also used the mergers, to bring the seats closer together, to cut capacity.


NELSON: And so, every single flight is full. You add, on top of that, the stressors of the pandemic? And people are, what we see on the airplanes is usually a tip of the spear, of what's happening, on the ground, in the rest of our society and politics.


NELSON: And so, that's what we're experiencing.

When you asked, Teddy, how does that make you feel? What -- his experience bears out in the survey that we conducted, of flight attendants, across the industry, at the time, who had experienced at 80 percent incidents, like Teddy experienced, in the prior month. And 61 percent of those incidents were also had racial, gender or homophobic slurs, included in them. That eats away at people. It makes it harder to do our jobs. We're--

ANDREWS: Yes. NELSON: Passengers, when they hear a strange sound on board, they look to us, for leadership. And it's really hard to show up every day, knowing -- not sure what you're going to get.

BOLDUAN: How do you make it stop?

NELSON: Well--


NELSON: --we thank the FAA, for working with DOJ, to get the investigations, over to DOJ, and to prosecute, put people in jail. That is a deterrent, for sure. Crew members' self-defense training should not just be a voluntary program. That should be a part of our program.

ANDREWS: Absolutely.

NELSON: And we need to have a passenger bans list. If people are acting out, like this, on the plane, we need to share that information, with rest of the industry. And if we have that run by the government, it can also be a very transparent program, to make sure that no one's civil liberties are interfered with, in the process.

BOLDUAN: And Teddy, I just want to get just your final thought, about this is?

ANDREWS: I think my grandmother taught me a valuable lesson that I live by every day. And that's "All of us are response-able." While you cannot control what happens to you, you are able to respond, or control your response.

So, I think when passengers are on board the aircraft, we just want them to just be respectful. Pack your kindness, when you pack your suitcase. Pack your -- yourself your mutual respect for one another. And I think we just got to get back to taking care of one another.

NELSON: We bring people together--

ANDREWS: There you go.

NELSON: Through aviation, right?

ANDREWS: Little lives journey, we--

BOLDUAN: Very closely.

ANDREWS: --different people lives journey--

NELSON: Very closely, yes.

BOLDUAN: Well we truly are, especially when you're in a tube--


BOLDUAN: --flying through the sky, you really are all in it together. NELSON: That's right.

ANDREWS: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Sara, thank you. It's good to see you.

Teddy. It's wonderful to meet you. Thank you so much.

ANDREWS: Thank you for having me. Great to meet you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

That's it for us tonight. I'll be back tomorrow, at 11 AM Eastern. Hope to see you then.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Laura Coates starts after a quick break.