Remarks by Jim Hall, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
National Business Aircraft Association
December 15, 2000
Good morning. I appreciate being invited to be here today to discuss the Safety Board's mission and our mutual goal to improve aviation safety for the traveling public. As you may have heard, rumor has it that I may be leaving the Board soon. If that proves to be true, I may soon have more than a professional interest in the safety of corporate aviation.
As you know, there has been a phenomenal growth in business aviation in recent years. And, that growth is expected to continue as airports and commercial airliners become more crowded, travelers experience more delays and cancelled flights, and many more business travelers choose to travel by corporate jets owned by their companies or on leased aircraft rather than deal with those inconveniences.
Currently, there are over 10,000 turbine-powered aircraft in the worldwide business jet fleet; 7,000 of which operate here in the United States. The U.S. business jet fleet has almost doubled in size in the last 10 years and some segments have grown at an even faster rate.
Despite that growth, corporate aviation has an enviable safety record and history of improvement. In the past 25 years, the accident rate has actually decreased from 1.93 accidents per 100,000 aircraft hours to about 0.40. That number is even lower when only turbine-power aircraft are considered.
The NBAA has helped make that record possible by taking an active and aggressive role in reducing accidents through your educational efforts and by disseminating safety information to your members. For example:
But, if that record is to be maintained, more needs to be done. There are major changes occurring in the industry -- such as fractional ownership and larger corporate aircraft being built by Boeing and Airbus that fly higher, faster, and for longer distances. In fact, some predict that the next supersonic transport may well be a business jet.
And, there are major safety challenges that must be addressed by the corporate aviation community -- congestion in some airspace sectors, overcrowding at many airports, shortages of qualified pilot and mechanics, and an aging aircraft fleet.
But, today, I want to discuss two issues of critical importance to aviation safety and accident prevention: the need for improved flight recorders and the need for an aging aircraft program.
The Board's accident investigation experience over the years has shown that on-board recording devices are one of the most useful tools available to us. They can help quickly isolate the problem, and help prevent a similar accident from happening again.
As many of you know, I have been an advocate for cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) and flight data recorders (FDRs) on all transport category aircraft.
It's time for corporate aircraft have the most modern equipment possible on board. As I said during the Board meeting on the Sunjet Aviation Lear 35 accident (Payne Stewart), I believe - as I know you do -- that everyone on a corporate aircraft deserves to be as safe as those flying on major commercial airlines. As some of you may know, the Board's investigation into that accident was severely hampered because the airplane was not equipped with a FDR and it had only a 30-minute CVR.
In 1999, we recommended that the FAA require CVRs that record two hours of data; 10 minutes of backup power in case of a power loss; and a redundant CVR near the front of the cockpit. We also want improved crash survivability of all recorders. Unfortunately, the FAA has yet to take action to implement any of these critical requirements.
I also believe that cockpit image recorders are the natural next step in on-board recorders and that we will see their implementation in the near future. I realize that this idea is controversial; however, we should make use of any available technology that can help us more quickly determine the probable cause of accidents -- and, therefore, prevent future accidents.
Recording images of the cockpit is not a new idea. However, it has only recently become technically and economically feasible. Technological advances in electronics make it possible to capture images of what is happening inside the cockpit so that questions regarding flight crew actions can be readily resolved. With the limits of current flight recorders and the implementation of fly by wire controls and glass cockpits, we need to take advantage of that technology. The idea is not to replace the CVR or FDR, or duplicate information already recorded, but to capture information that is not already recorded.
Cockpit image recorders would provide key information that would allow us to determine if any human factors issues, such as non-verbal communication, information overload, distractions, and procedural problems exist. A cockpit video recorder could tell us which pilot was at the controls, what controls were being manipulated, pilot inputs to instruments (i.e., switches or circuit breakers), or what information was on the video displays (i.e., the display screens and weather radar). Video recorders would also provide crucial information about the circumstances and physical conditions in the cockpit that are simply not available to investigators, despite the availability of modern CVRs and 100-parameter digital FDRs.
Last February, as a result of an October 1997 accident involving a Cessna operated by the Department of Interior that was not required to have a CVR or FDR, the Board recommended that the FAA require crash-protected video recording systems on Part 135 aircraft not currently required to have a crashworthy flight recorder device.
In recent years, the Safety Board's investigations of other accidents involving Cessna 208s and similar turbine-powered aircraft had been hampered by a similar lack of FDR and CVR information. In addition, in this case, there were no recorded communications between the accident aircraft and air traffic control or other aircraft. A cockpit image recorder may have provided crucial information about conditions in the cockpit and the crew's actions. It would have also provided investigators with critical factual information such as altitude, airspeed, engine power, flight control inputs, aircraft configuration plus human factor and atmospheric conditions.
In April, the Safety Board recommended that the FAA require Part 121, 125, or 135 aircraft currently equipped with a CVR and a FDR to also be equipped with a crash-protected cockpit image recording system. We made this recommendation because we didn't have adequate information about the cockpit environment in several recent major investigations, including ValuJet flight 592 and EgyptAir flight 990 in October 1999, as well the SilkAir flight 185 and Swissair flight 111 investigations.
In the past few years, the Safety Board's investigations of aviation accidents have also focused much needed attention on the service life of aircraft structures and systems. The May 1988 Aloha Airlines 737 accident first highlighted the issue of aging aircraft structures. And, the investigation of the TWA flight 800 accident clearly demonstrated the need to more closely examine the wiring systems of aging aircraft.
Manufacturers and FAA officials tell me that, in theory, there is no set life for an airplane. With proper inspection and maintenance, an aircraft can remain in service indefinitely. However, I doubt that the designers of the DC-3 expected that that aircraft would still be flying in commercial operations today. Boeing says that the parents of the last 737 pilot have not been born yet - they project that the 737 series will remain in service well past 2050.
Boeing is now completely dissembling high time aircraft to predict failure modes and areas in which additional maintenance may be necessary. They have found corrosion, fatigue, debonding of composite structures, wire chafing, and failures of electrical connectors that were not predicted by the original maintenance planning analysis. There's also an active campaign underway to examine aging wiring. Similar programs are needed for corporate aircraft.
For the most part, corporate aircraft do not accumulate number of flights as commercial air carriers - in fact, most only fly about one-tenth of the hours of airliners -- so aircraft owners may not be as concerned about aging systems - although you should be. Our investigations have repeatedly shown aging structures and systems can result in accidents if operators do not have aggressive programs to effectively monitor them. The average age of high performance corporate jet aircraft is increasing - the Lear 35 was 23 years old at the time of the accident. I am pleased to see that the NBAA's Maintenance Committee has formed a group to address some of these issues. But, I continue to believe that corporate aircraft should be included in the FAA's formal program.
Corporate airplanes are flying at similar altitudes and speeds as the major air carrier fleet and they will be in service for just as long. It's time for business aircraft to have the same safety programs and oversight as other air carriers.
I have long advocated the sharing of ideas and information between military and commercial aircraft. It's time for corporate aircraft and the major air carriers to do the same, so that both groups can benefit from lessons learned and improve the safety of flight for everyone who travels on them.
Thank you, again, for inviting me to be here today. I hope you'll all have a very happy holiday season and a very prosperous 2001!