Remarks of Ellen Engleman Conners
Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
before the
Aero Club of Washington
Washington, DC
November 23, 2004

 


Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here.

It is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

And, a privilege to serve with my fellow distinguished Board Members:

Today I've been asked to talk about the balance between safety and security in the post-9/11 world. Now, 9/11 was a beautiful day. If you've heard the rumors, it's true; I used to live on a houseboat. Her name was Potomac Freedom and I walked to work. And so I was walking to work that day and as I walked into the Department of Transportation, I had people running to up to me saying, "A plane has struck the World Trade Center."

I said, "Has the CMC been activated?" meaning the Crisis Management Center, for which I was responsible. It coordinated all the emergency communication for the department under the federal response plan. So I put my purse down and I went to the CMC and 38 hours later, I remember saying, "Has anyone seen my purse?"

Yet, although it has been three years hence, when I see folks who were in that room with me, we all have that same corporate memory of unspoken apprehension and at the same time determination. And that's the bond that America shares and that's the bond that those of us who have the privilege to serve in Washington share. We will not let you down. We serve you and it's your tax dollars that pay us to do this job.

And what a job it is. It was a scary day on 9/11 for many reasons, because for the first time the transportation system itself was used as a weapon. And it cannot be repeated enough; our transportation system was used as a weapon. This wasn't a missile, this wasn't a bomb; commercial airliners, part of our transportation system, became the weapons. And so all of us in the transportation world were thinking about the 2.2 million miles of pipelines, about our nuclear power plants, the 800,000 daily shipments of hazardous material, we're thinking of our ports and of course, we're thinking of the 12 million flights with over 600 million passengers every year in US commercial aviation.

One of the biggest challenges, though, is the new reality of security, and let me give you an example from surface transportation. The issued of using placards for HAZMAT identification was challenged by many in the security world as a kind of "you are here" pointer for identification of targets or tools. For the safety world they are a useful tool to let emergency responders know what is being transported. And for the safety regulator, his job is to promote safety while the security guy seeks to support security. We have two worlds colliding. The world of security has more of a close it down/lock it up mentality and the world of safety has a more of shared information and open communication. They are almost opposite in their approaches and yet these two worlds must now interact and work together.

We all have to understand that security is a permanent part of our new world and, yes, there are some growing pains and some hassles and challenges and those who are at the helm - Secretary Ridge, Deputy Secretary Jim Loy and the good folks at Department of Homeland Security and TSA, with whom I've worked - are all working very hard to find the seamless way to incorporate security into our general world of safety, but it's not without difficulty. This is why I have sought to establish MOU's with DHS, TSA and others for cross training, participation in joint exercises and understanding of our individual roles and responsibilities during an event.

When balancing safety and security, I look at the ABC's. Issue one that we have to do in this new post-9/11 reality is assessment and acceptance-assessment of our vulnerabilities and acceptance of the fact that security is a part of everything that we do. So assessment and acceptance are the "A." The Aviation industry has faced up to this challenge. Security is a part of your business environment.

The "B" is what I'm going to call the buddy system. That means it has to be done in partnership, and it's not just the federal government that has the answers, it's the state government, it's the local government, it's the private sector, it's the universities, and it's the individual citizens. The emergency responders who are on call-the sheriffs, the highway patrolmen, the seamen and the Coast Guard, the private sector think tanks, the research and engineering capability of the industrial base that we have-we are all in this together, and so I like to say that it is the buddy system that has to work.

Now, there's another issue that's very important and that's just the bottom-line cost on lives and the economy for transportation accidents. You see, it's not just about the big commercial airliner, we're talking about accidents that happen every day-rail, marine, buses, cars, pipelines, and aviation, both general aviation and commercial aviation-and it's critical because in the year 2000, which are the last figures I have, the cost of highway accidents alone was $230 billion - that's more than $800 for every man, woman and child in this country. We're not just talking about the $500 deductible on your auto policy or the inconvenience of having your car in the shop. There are almost 50,000 fatalities every year in transportation accidents. Last year, in the year 2003, we had over forty-two thousand people die on the highway, over 600 aviation related deaths and over 703 marine related deaths. It may be your lives or the lives of you and your family, and the entire economic impact of that. So we have to work on these things together, and that requires the buddy system. And we have to look at combinations and collaboration of how we're going to interact. So that's my "C," combination and collaboration.

So where does this lead? Well, "D" is for direction. What is the direction we must take on a policy perspective, on a technical perspective, on a legislative perspective, on an economic perspective? Well, for me the key is safety. In the majority of the nations in the world when you talk about safety, safety and security are used interchangeably and they're actually the same word, that is safety and security. The administrative requirements, the laws, the agencies themselves work on safety and security. So we can't ignore the two and how they must go together.

But how do we deal with safety or security issues together, and how do they interact? Well, let me give you some examples of why you cannot separate safety and security. The hardening of cockpit doors in airplanes is a security issue, is it not? But it's also a safety issue because if there's a problem in the plane, can the pilots get out? Or does the cockpit need to be accessed by those outside the plane? Transportation of hazardous materials is another important issue. Again, there are 800,000 shipments of HAZMAT every day. Then, of course, there is the human element and this encompasses everything from background security checks of airport workers to foreign students in wanting to attend US flight schools to screening requirements of passengers. Then comes the issues of TFR's, closing of airports to general aviation, the financial impact of the last 36 months to the aviation industry as a whole.

As you know, the airline industry has lost over $23 billion since 9/11 and the Air Transportation Stabilization Board has distributed over $4.6 billion since its inception. The development of security standards and safety standards has been a challenge and is a permanent part of your business environment.

With civil aviation representing 9% of our domestic GNP, exceeding 900 Billion dollars and over 11 million jobs, we have to get this right. Because the American aviation industry is one of the areas where we have a trade surplus of 40 percent, our economy and the world economy are connected. And most importantly our economy is the biggest weapon we have against terrorism. So we have to do both, safety and security. But here in is also an issue that has to be considered when any industry begins to focus on costs as an isolated factor - cost reduction must factor in the need for safety. And one of the critical elements of all safety is trained and experienced personnel. In the federal government investment in human capital is a core focus. Our people are our greatest assets - which includes their experience and knowledge. It is invaluable and should be protected. And training and experience are connected to safety.

Now, for those of you who invest in the stock market, you know that public confidence is that one amorphous thing that's hard to grab hold on, but without it, people won't invest. Well, without public confidence in the safety of our transportation system, it will be difficult to keep the traveling public's trust - and please remember as I began my comments, the transportation system itself was the weapon on 9/11. This is why we must ensure that public confidence remains secure in our public transportation system, and that means all modes-car, rail, boats, trains and planes. A major safety accident or a security incident will affect public confidence.

Transportation is intermodal and international and interconnected. You cannot be isolated in today's world. All modes interact. When the Port of Los Angeles was closed, the impact was over $1 billion dollars day. When fuel prices skyrocket, costs to airlines increase and profitability goes down. When changes are made in visas for foreign students, American flight schools are affected; when TSA requests passenger lists the timing chain for all flights is affected. So there are no borders when it comes to transportation. Again it's intermodal and international and interconnected. And most importantly when a major event happens - whether it is a safety accident or a security incident, public confidence in the transportation system will be affected and must be restored.

This is the new face of safety, and I see NTSB having a significant role. We are the bully pulpit and I've been quoted as saying, "I plan on having daily services." Because we're not a safety regulator, as you know. We are an independent, technical agency. We must make our recommendations based on fact, science and data, not guesswork, not desire, not supposition and not influenced by others. This is important. Our recommendations are based on facts, science and data that look at the safety issues to ensure that all transportation is safe, because it all boils down to public confidence.

This is the reasoning behind the SWAT initiative at the Board. SWAT stands for Safety With a Team and it is an aggressive communication plan that seeks to implement open safety recommendations so that they can be closed "Acceptable." It is not a numbers game to close recommendations without concern as to the impact. It is an assertive plan that goes beyond the NTSB's most wanted list as a tool for safety. Our staff meets with modal staff to discuss open recommendations and focus on what causes the delays, objections and issues that are holding up the implementation of the recommendations. Elaine Weinstein, Director of Safety Recommendations and Communication at the NTSB, and Steve Wallace from the FAA can certainly attest to the tenaciousness of the conversations. Open discussions support fairly aggressive debate. And it also yields results. Of the 49 recommendations closed by SWAT, all but one were unanimously closed by the 5 Board members. One had a single dissent.

The most recently closed-acceptable recommendation from a SWAT meeting was:

A-01-54 Require the use of automatic brakes, if available and operative, for landings during wet, slippery, or high crosswind conditions.

Initially the FAA said they did not believe that the procedure should be mandated because appropriate use of autobrakes does not apply identically among all airplane types and models, and among all autobrake systems. At a December 2003 SWAT meeting the FAA repeated that it was concerned with overly prescriptive regulations concerning operational procedures, and the FAA believed that operators should follow the manufacturer's recommended procedures. Board staff indicated that manufacturers who install autobrakes on their aircraft recommend their use, but many operators revise this procedure to save on wear on brakes. The FAA agreed to issue a Notice strongly recommending that manufacturer's guidelines regarding the use of autobrakes be followed in the specified conditions. If there were no manufacturer's recommendations, the FAA would strongly recommend autobrake use in these conditions. On June 21, 2004, the FAA issued Notice N8400.68, "Use of Autobrakes for Landings in Adverse Conditions", which recommended that POIs review carriers procedures regarding the use of autobrakes, and that they urge the airline to adopt the manufacturer's recommended practices. The recommendation was classified closed-acceptable alternate.

When I came to the NTSB there were 1039 open recommendations, many languishing for years without progress. Since then we have closed 459 recommendations in all modes of which 128 were aviation recommendations.

Of course we continue to issue new recommendations and have issued over 200 more to all modes with about 114 in aviation leaving a little over 800 open recommendations with only 324 aviation recommendations still open. Why is this important? Our first job is to determine the probable cause of the accidents but our deliverables, if you will, are the safety recommendations and the implementation of them! Implementation is the key. Until the recommendation is closed acceptable, its just an idea floating around - the safety loop is not closed. Out of tragedy good must come. We can't change the accident but we can use that knowledge to prevent them.

And so lastly, we're going to work very aggressively in the pursuit of safety. Aviation has achieved a high level of safety. We are blessed that this industry continuously improves itself - but the issues of training and maintenance are still with us. For instance, for the 21 recommendations that the Board issued from Air Midwest 4381, 14 dealt with training and maintenance issues. There were 10 recommendations from the Wellstone crash in which 5 dealt with oversight and training. And on our Most Wanted List, Aviation still has critical issues that must be addressed: Runway incursions, Cockpit Imaging Recorders, Icing, Aircraft Fuel Tank Flammability, Runway Incursions and Human Fatigue. And I can't stress enough the need to focus on human fatigue as a critical issue.

So what does the future hold? Well for 400 plus NTSB employees, we will focus on cleaning up the record by aggressively pursuing implementation of safety recommendations and continuing to improve our internal efficiency by focusing on the timeliness of our major reports. We have identified 73 critical vacancies within the NTSB that we need to fully fulfill our mission and have identified those to Congress. And we use our new NTSB Academy for training, for advocacy outreach and for implementing safety recommendations.

I'll close by saying why it ultimately matters. When the phone rings in the family home and the family is informed that they've lost a loved one, the pain has no difference to them whether it's a commercial airliner, the World Trade Center, or an auto accident on the Interstate. The pain is still there. So it's my job to find a way to reduce those almost 50,000 deaths every year in our transportation system so that maybe the phone won't be ringing as often. Thank you very much. I have the privilege to serve you as the Chairman of the NTSB. And I am dedicated to aggressively pursuing safety in all modes.