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Safety Agency Warns of Tail Strikes, Off-Course Flying by Near-Empty Airplanes

One nearly empty passenger jet “climbed like a rocket,” prompting the pilots to exceed their assigned altitude. Others have scraped their tails on takeoff, gone off course or strayed close enough to other aircraft to prompt mid-air collision alerts.

The common thread: the massive disruptions to the U.S. airline industry caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the plunge in travel has in many ways eased pressure on roads and the aviation system, it has at times had the opposite effect on safety. The rate of highway deaths has actually risen as motorists speed on empty roads. And the drop in airline passengers has triggered an unusual spate of incidents that are challenging flight safety, according to publicly available reports as well as government, industry and union officials.

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