Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Closing Statement
December 1, 2011
Oversight of Public Aircraft Operations: Ensuring Safety for Critical Missions


On behalf of my fellow Board members, I thank all those who have participated in this forum over the last two days. All of us appreciate the time and effort you took to provide us with informative and thought-provoking presentations.

Our team has spent the last several months putting together this forum, thank you to Georgia Struhsaker and Bill English, our lead technical staff, and to Kristi Dunks, Jeff Marcus, and Bob Combs who led panels for this forum. Under Member Rosekind's leadership many important issues have been highlighted.

One thing is clear from all of the discussion: public aircraft operations come in all shapes, all sizes, and perform a host of missions many of which are critical to our national security and safety. But this forum has also helped us to focus on the need for adequate safety oversight.

Those whom we ask to "serve and protect" the public should be equally protected with clear and definitive rules about the safety of the aircraft operations in which they conduct their public role.

We can all agree that oversight of public aircraft operations have lacked the clarity and transparency that exist for civil operations. As I said yesterday, we must "eschew obfuscation" regarding where safety oversight responsibility lies in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to safe operations.

In my opening remarks, I noted that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. Public aircraft operations have been the orphan of aviation safety and there is a compelling need to foster this key segment of the industry.

Ultimately on an organizational level, the responsibility for your safety is your own. However, when there is no oversight and accountability, it may be necessary for the industry to step in and take a leadership role because, whether you like it or not, you will be judged by each other's performance.

The industry needs to replicate good safety programs. You must be actively engaged in developing and nurturing good safety cultures, improving the flow of data, and relying on each other to do the right thing even when nobody is watching - because, frankly, as we've heard over the last two days, most of the time nobody is watching.

Most, if not all, of you are facing budget cuts. Now is the time to engage in meaningful conversations about the challenges and successes as well as to share the best safety practices discussed here this week.

To do that, all participants have to take custody of these operations. In the end, we are our brother's keepers. We need to rely on each other, whether through the FAA or other government agencies or even through organizations and associations that help establish best practices, and to hold their membership accountable to high standards. We need to do that now; we cannot wait until we have another accident.

We stand adjourned.