By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Aug 28 (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday it was naming the acting head of aviation safety to the permanent job, as the United States grapples with a series of troubling air safety near-miss incidents.

David Boulter, a long-time FAA official and pilot, has been tapped to serve as the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety. The FAA said Boulter “is well qualified to carry on the important work of protecting the traveling public as we continue the FAA’s mission to make the world’s safest form of travel even safer.” The statement said that an increase in incidents “reminded us that we can never take our safety record for granted.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating seven runway incursion events since January, including an Aug. 11 near miss in San Diego.

A Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) Boeing 737 and a Cessna Citation 560X business jet nearly collided after an air traffic controller cleared the Cessna to land even though the Southwest plane had already been told to taxi onto the same runway and await instructions to depart, the FAA said.

A source told Reuters the Cessna passed over the top of the Southwest airplane by about 100 feet.

The FAA said last week it was holding runway safety meetings at 90 airports and issued a safety alert to airlines over ground safety. In March, the FAA said it was taking steps to improve its air traffic control operations after near-miss incidents, telling employees: “There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls.”

The agency has been without a permanent administrator since April 2022. Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has criticized the number of senior FAA positions without permanent officials.

President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the agency, Phil Washington, withdrew in March. The White House has yet to pick a new nominee.

Since June, Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg has been serving as acting FAA administrator in addition to her USDOT duties after Billy Nolen, a prior head of aviation safety, stepped down as acting administrator.

Citing federal vacancy rules, Trottenberg told employees that her last day at the FAA would be Oct. 25.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Mark Porter and Matthew Lewis