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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg talks runway safety at Little Rock airport

After some close calls at airports nationwide, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg visited Little Rock to check on plans to improve runways.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After some close calls at airports nationwide, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg checked in Wednesday to see how federal funds are going towards safety efforts at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock.

"In the same way that we would respond to a collision or a crash, we're going to make sure we respond to these close calls," Buttigieg said. "So that none of them turn into a collision or a crash."

That response was in the form of $41 million to support a $60 million runway renovation.

"This project removes other non-standard taxiways to runway intersections and makes them safer," LIT Executive Director Bryan Malinowski said.

The national push for runway safety comes after an increase in close calls for aircraft accidents happening on the ground.

"To be clear, they remain extremely rare," Buttigieg said. "They've happened in the past at a pace of about once per month, but right now we're seeing it almost double that."

The secretary wants to re-focus on safety basics after the pandemic's volatile impact on air travel. Wednesday's visit closely follows an FAA Safety Summit.

"Part of this has to do with that swift return to air travel, which while good economic news means we need to keep up on the safety side," Buttigieg said.

This all comes as more passengers return to the skies. Malinowski said passenger traffic is up 20% so far in 2023 with more than two million passengers last year in over 82,000 operations on the airfield.

The construction of the runway project is expected to finish in 2024.

In addition, LIT recently got an$8 million grant to build a new baggage claim and concourse.

According to Malinowski, the number of passengers nowadays is four times higher than the airport was originally designed for.

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