Testimony of
Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
before the
Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
Regarding Aviation Safety
March 10, 1999

as presented | for the record

 


As Presented:

Good morning Chairman Wolf and Members of the Subcommittee. It is a pleasure to represent the National Transportation
Safety Board before you today on the subject of aviation safety.

As you are all probably aware, 1998 was the first year that no passenger died on a scheduled Part 121 or Part 135 carrier in
the United States. This is a remarkable achievement considering the statistics: in 1998, the airlines carried about 611 million
passengers on almost 11 million flights. The more than 500,000 people employed by scheduled air carriers in the United States
and the 40+ thousand employees of the FAA should be commended for this outstanding record.

My prepared testimony discusses five safety issues, but in the interest of time, I will briefly discuss only 2 - flight recorders and
collision avoidance systems. I will, of course, be happy to answer your questions on these and the other three issues - aircraft
icing, runway incursions, and child safety.

The upgrading of accident recorders is a top priority at the Safety Board, and an issue on the Board's Most Wanted list of
safety improvements since 1990. The purpose of flight recorders -- whether it be a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data
recorder -- is to collect data that can help us learn. What these important devices tell us can prevent accidents. The Safety
Board and this Subcommittee have for many years prodded the FAA to require upgraded recorders on transport category
aircraft, but sadly most of the U.S. fleet is still equipped with outmoded models. Just two weeks ago, a control incident
involving a Metrojet Boeing 737 occurred. That aircraft had an 11-parameter recorder on board. Once again, because of FAA
and industry inaction, the Safety Board does not have important information needed to find out what happened on that 737.

As you are aware, the Safety Board has urgently recommended that the FAA require all transport category aircraft to have
upgraded flight recorder capability and asked that the FAA expedite this action with regard to the Boeing 737. Although the
FAA has published a final rule mandating the inclusion of almost all of the data parameters we originally recommended, we are
concerned that the completion of the upgrade is 3 years away. In addition, the FAA chose not to single out the 737 as urgently
requested by the Board. The Board's safety recommendation asked for an effective date of December 30, 1995 - the FAA's
rule has an effective date of 2002.

In addition, the Metrojet's in-flight event was not preserved on the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder because the 30-minute
continuous loop had recorded over the event. Important safety information is often lost on CVRs that record for only 30
minutes, and two years ago the Safety Board recommended that the FAA move expeditiously to equip aircraft with 2-hour
cockpit voice recorders so that valuable investigative data could be retrieved during accident and incident investigations. To
date, the FAA has yet to require the 2-hour recorder.

Another problem is the loss of recorder data due to interruption of aircraft electrical power. The Canadian's investigation of
Swissair flight 111 has been hampered because the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder both stopped
nearly 6 minutes before the airplane hit the water. The NTSB and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board yesterday
recommended that CVRs be retrofitted, on all airplanes required to carry both a CVR and an FDR, with a CVR that is capable
of recording the last 2 hours of audio, and that it be fitted with an independent power source that will provide 10 minutes of
operation whenever aircraft power to the recorder ceases.

The second issue I want to discuss is traffic alert collision avoidance systems. We believe the regulation regarding the phased
installation program of TCAS II should include cargo aircraft. A week ago yesterday two large cargo planes nearly collided at
33,000 feet over Kansas after both planes apparently lost radio contact with an air traffic control center. Domestic air cargo
nearly tripled between 1980 and 1996. The growth in cargo operations, including 8-million pounds of hazardous materials
freight shipped by air daily, has brought about an increase in daytime flying for cargo operators, which means they are
increasingly using the same airspace at the same time as passenger carriers. This traffic mix and density increases the challenge
of maintaining safe separation among aircraft. While it is encouraging that since the incident last week the FAA has issued press
statements that it now favors installation of TCAS on cargo carriers, no official documentation has been released.

Mr. Chairman, before closing I would like to briefly mention the Board's increased activity in foreign aviation accident
investigations. In 1998, 110 United States citizens were killed in foreign aviation accidents, and a United States citizen can be
found on most air carrier flights anywhere in the world. This is, in part, as a result of every-increasing code-sharing
arrangements with foreign airlines. You will recall that several years ago the FAA acted on Safety Board recommendations
regarding one level of safety between smaller commuter airlines and large air carriers. As code sharing agreements continue to
increase, we plan to monitor this situation closely to determine whether safety recommendations are appropriate.

It is apparent to me, Mr. Chairman, that issues of aviation safety are no longer parochial, but are international in nature. The
NTSB expects to be more and more involved in foreign accident and incident investigations, as U.S. airlines become more
entwined with foreign counterparts, and U.S. aircraft and engine manufacturers find themselves competing more and more with
foreign companies.

That completes my testimony, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

 



For the Record:

Good morning Chairman Wolf and Members of the Subcommittee. It is a pleasure to represent the National Transportation Safety Board before you today on the subject of aviation safety.

As you are all probably aware, 1998 was the first year that no passenger died on a scheduled Part 121 or Part 135 carrier in the United States. This a remarkable achievement considering the statistics: in 1998, there were about 611 million passenger enplanements; nearly 11 million scheduled air carrier departures, and over 16 million scheduled air carrier flight hours. We commend the more than 500,000 people employed by scheduled air carriers in the United States for this remarkable achievement.

We can all be proud of the consistent high level of safety in which the U.S. commercial aviation industry operates. And while we can take pride in our 1998 record, we must not reduce our continuing efforts to have every year as safe as 1998. We must temper our enthusiasm over the good news of 1998 with the recognition that our colleagues in Canada are continuing their investigation into the crash of Swissair flight 111 near Halifax, Nova Scotia on September 2, 1998, in which all 229 persons aboard that aircraft perished, including 102 U.S. citizens.

The Swiss Air accident was only one of 121 international accident investigations the NTSB supported last year. The rapid growth of international aviation and projections for continued growth are placing increased responsibilities on the Safety Board in the international arena. On one recent day, five countries were represented in our laboratories on accident investigations in which Safety Board staff are participating.

In addition, a significant amount of the world's aircraft fleet are manufactured in the U.S. and more and more foreign-manufactured aircraft are operating to and from and within the U.S. More importantly, nearly every foreign airline accident in the recent past has had American citizens on board. In 1998 alone, 110 U.S. citizens were killed in foreign accidents. This raises another issue that is rapidly emerging--airline code-share agreements.

As you know, the Safety Board is responsible for fulfilling the U.S. obligations for international accident and incident investigation under the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The specific obligations are contained in Annex 13 to that Convention, which outlines the standards and recommended practices for international investigations, and specifies that the States of Registry, Operator, Design, and Manufacture must support the States of Occurrence during investigations of accidents and serious incidents. The Safety Board leads the U.S. teams to support foreign investigations involving U.S. operated aircraft and U.S. manufactured aircraft and engines.

Additionally, Annex 8 to the Convention contains the obligations for States of Design and Manufacture to monitor the continuing airworthiness of the aircraft and engines operating around the world. The U.S. is obligated to notify other States operating U.S. products all over the world about airworthiness problems with our products. As a result of our participation in foreign accident investigations, the Safety Board can facilitate access to data from foreign investigations for the FAA and our aviation industry. And, we can apply the lessons learned from those foreign investigations to help improve U.S. aviation safety.

The need for our involvement in international accident investigations has also increased because more and more U.S. airlines are entering into code-share arrangements with foreign airlines. These agreements mean that if an American citizen buys a ticket on a U.S. airline to fly outside of the United States, there is a growing likelihood that all or part of the flight may be on a non-U.S. airline. As you know, FAA oversight responsibilities for foreign airlines is limited and the safety records of many foreign airlines, unfortunately, are not at the same level as U.S. airlines. Several years ago, a similar issue arose in the United States when large air carriers began code-share arrangements with smaller commuter airlines that did not have to meet more stringent safety requirements of large air carriers. At that time, the relationships between the large and small airlines were strictly economic. Consequently, the traveling public was receiving in effect two levels of safety, until December 1995 when the FAA acted on Safety Board recommendations and issued its final rule that raised the standards for commuter airlines to the same level as the large airlines. The Safety Board played a major role in prompting those changes in the United States, and we plan to monitor the code share trend closely to determine whether additional safety recommendations may be appropriate to ensure one level of safety for international travel as well.

One significant area of concern in foreign accidents is CFIT. CFIT and other approach and landing accidents continue to account for a significant percentage of the accidents and fatalities on a worldwide basis. Nearly 15 approach and landing accidents involving large jet and turbojet aircraft occur each year, not counting CFIT accidents in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Eighty percent of fatalities in commercial transport aircraft accidents from 1979 to 1991 were classified by the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) as CFIT, or occurred in the approach and landing phase. During the period 1980 - 1996, there were 287 fatal approach and landing accidents that killed 7,185 people worldwide. Based on current projections for air traffic growth, by 2010, there could be 23 CFIT accidents annually.

Over the years, the Safety Board has also addressed pilot training and procedures, such as stabilized approaches, defined missed approach criteria, cockpit resource management training, simulator training for pilots in tactical decisionmaking, etc., to prevent CFIT accidents. With the exception of the tragic Korean Air Boeing 747 accident in Guam on August 6, 1997, that killed 228 passengers and crew, including 14 United States citizens, CFIT accidents have been significantly reduced in the U.S. for both large and small airliners.

The Safety Board issued its first recommendation for a terrain warning system in cockpits of airliners following a non-fatal CFIT accident in 1971, when a DC-9 struck antennas during approach for landing in Gulfport, Mississippi. Additional recommendations were issued following fatal airline accidents in Virginia and the Everglades and in 1975, the FAA began to require large passenger aircraft to be equipped with a ground proximity warning system (GPWS). In 1986, based on a series of commuter airline accidents, the Safety Board recommended that GPWS be required on smaller passenger airliners as well.

After this issue was placed on the Board's "Most Wanted" list in 1994, commuter aircraft with 10 or more seats were required to have GPWS installed. In December 1995, an American Airlines Boeing 757 crashed in Colombia killing all but four of the 163 persons aboard. As a result of that accident, the Safety Board recommended that the FAA require next generation "enhanced" GPWS to be installed on U.S. airliners. A proposed rule for EGPWS was issued in 1998 and the FAA is currently reviewing the comments. In the meantime, some airlines are voluntarily installing EGPWS on their aircraft. During the investigation for the Korean Air accident, it was revealed that the installation of EGPWS would have provided the flightcrew significant warning of the impending ground collision. However, at that time, the system was not certified for that model aircraft.

There are five other specific areas that I also wish to address today and that I believe, Mr. Chairman, will go a long way in producing the type of year we had in 1998 are:

Airplane Recorders Airframe Structural Icing Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) Runway Incursions Child Restraint Seats That completes my testimony, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

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