'Love Us Or Loathe Us, Commercial Aviation Needs Us'
NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman addressed the Wings Club of New York Thursday, in a speech that highlighted many of the board's activities promoting aviation safety.
Hersman covered investigations into such accidents as the Alaska Airlines MD-83, which went down in the Pacific Ocean in January, 2000. Following that accident, Hersman said "the NTSB's materials lab looked like a "jackscrew farm" with so many units sent to Washington for examination. "Our investigation was just starting, yet there was consensus among the team that the jackscrew assembly had experienced unusual wear. The result: operators promptly changed maintenance procedures on their MD-80 series aircraft. Safety was served."
Hersman said that the public counts on the NTSB to be an independent expert to represent their interests in an investigation and to keep them informed. "FAA has investigators. Industry has investigators. But, as the independent safety investigator, the NTSB is able to ask the tough questions, call the balls and strikes and challenge the community to find solutions to crucial safety issues," she said.
"In our investigation of the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, we asked a lot of tough questions... questions about pilot training and professionalism, about standard and sterile cockpit procedures, about pilot records, and more. But, perhaps the toughest question was about pilot commuting. How can you be rested and ready for duty when you slept the previous night in a lounge chair and were up at 3 a.m. sending emails or when you commuted the night before from Seattle to Newark via FedEx through Memphis?"
And, she said, pilots and airlines aren't the only focus of the board. "We've called "out" controller professionalism as well - such as when, in 2009, a controller in the tower was distracted by personal phone calls, and a private plane and a helicopter collided over the Hudson River, killing nine people."
Hersman said that the grounding of the Dreamliner fleet was only the third time in the country's history that such a measure had been taken. In each of the other instances, there had been multiple fatalities associated with the accidents. But in the Dreamliner incident "No one died."
"We live in a different era now. We've seen 52 straight months without a fatal U.S. commercial accident. There are higher standards today. And greater expectations. Much greater. Yet, the absence of accidents does not equal safety. Safely defying gravity thousands of times each day requires constant vigilance. That's because risk remains and always will. What the aviation community has done is learn and apply effective ways to mitigate many of the risks that we've identified," Hersman said.
But what may be her most memorable takeaway from the speech came about midway through the presentation. "Love us or loathe us, commercial aviation needs us. It is the public -- those 730 million passengers who fly on U.S. airlines each year - that the NTSB represents," Hersman said. "They count on an honest broker with the ability to identify existing - and emerging - safety issues and push for needed improvements."
(Hersman photo from file)