Before the Air Line Pilots Association International


Thank you so much, Joe, for that kind introduction. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your safety leadership and that of ALPA, which is essential to making our skies safer. 

As you heard earlier, I'm an alum of the transportation labor movement — and damn proud of it! My time at the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters — where I was a card-carrying member of Teamsters Local 70 — taught me a powerful lesson. It's a lesson that's been reinforced every day since, throughout my years on the Hill and at the NTSB. 

The lesson is this: transportation workers are the backbone of America. They're also some of the best people I know. It's why I'll never stop fighting so hard for worker safety, in every mode of transportation. 

It's also why your theme resonates with me so much: perseverance through strength and unity. 

In fact, it perfectly describes something that happened just last week. 

I was at Johnson Space Center on Friday for the National Space Council meeting. While there, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen and I signed a new Memorandum of Agreement on commercial space mishap investigations. 

The previous agreement that guided our working relationship was signed 22 years ago. That's practically ancient history when you think about how fast things are advancing, especially in our skies. 

In a little over two decades, we've seen everything from the world's first space tourist take flight in 2001 to the first all-private crew reach the International Space Station: Axiom Mission 1, which returned earlier this year.  

The entire lifespan of the FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program, which recognized individuals who were on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reached 50 statute miles above Earth's surface, is shorter than the time between our agreements on commercial space! 

The first person to get their wings was in 2004. Mike Melvill was the first non-government astronaut. He piloted SpaceShipOne. By 2021 FAA retired the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program, saying it was no longer needed given the arrival of “the commercial space tourism era." 

All that's to say: these are incredibly exciting times! 

Getting humans and cargo to and from space safely requires the brightest minds to push the limits of human ingenuity. 

It requires the bravest explorers to go where most of us never will and bring back knowledge we can no longer live without. 

Frankly, it's awe-inspiring. 

And yet, we all know that human spaceflight is inherently risky. 

While we hope it never occurs, the agreement between the NTSB and FAA ensures we're ready if there is a mishap. 

And just in time. 

Blue Origin experienced a booster failure during the launch of its New Shephard rocket from West Texas on Monday. This triggered an “abort system" that allowed the capsule to parachute to Earth. Fortunately, it was a payload mission; there were no humans on board. 

Under the terms of our new agreement, the FAA is leading the investigation. We will serve as official observers to the investigation. 

This isn't the first mishap to occur and, unfortunately, it won't be the last. That's why both agencies needed to clearly define our roles and responsibilities long before we arrive on scene. Bureaucracy, red tape, and confusion belong nowhere near a major investigation. 

That's why modernizing our agreement has been among my top priorities since becoming Chair just over a year ago. 

Going forward, the NTSB will serve as the lead investigative agency for commercial space launch or reentry mishaps that result in fatalities, serious injuries, and damage from debris to certain property not associated with launch or reentry activities or the launch site. 

The FAA will be the lead investigative agency for all other commercial space mishaps. 

It's a sobering responsibility. And it's one we take on willingly, backed by decades of experience and expertise — as well as our close relationship with the FAA. 

While we certainly have our differences, and the NTSB will always push the FAA to implement our recommendations, our new agreement shows we are, in fact, united by safety. 

The safety of those who get to see our planet as a “blue marble." 

The safety of people on the ground who will never feel “zero-g," but without whom we wouldn't be planning to put the first woman and the first person of color on the moon. 

And the safety of everyone who lives, works, and plays under our skies back here on Earth.  

As mentioned, 22 years is a lot of history to face! But, once we got in the room and rolled up our sleeves, our teams updated the agreement in record time. We persevered and strengthened our relationship in the process. It truly is a historic moment for both agencies. Because we came together — before something tragic happens again.

​And the American people are safer for it. 

I look forward to discussing this further on tomorrow's panel. 

That's just one example of how your theme resonates with me. 

Here's another: We need to persevere in our fight to improve safety across all parts of the aviation industry. It's important now, more than ever, as we recover from the pandemic. 

Before I get to the challenges ahead, I want to recognize just how much perseverance you've already demonstrated these past two-and-a-half years. 

Pilots haven't just been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response; you've made the response possible in countless ways. 

Before we “flattened the curve," you made sure doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, and others could travel to provide lifesaving relief to overwhelmed ICUs around the country. 

You worked unprecedented overtime and carried the supply chain on your shoulders. Thanks to pilots, grocery shelves were stocked with food and essential supplies, like baby formula. 

Thanks to pilots, the vaccine and critical medical supplies arrived in all 50 states and even in other countries. 

In heeding the call to serve our nation, you risked your own health and safety, especially before the vaccine was available. 

And you spent time away from your loved ones, many of whom were likely impacted from COVID-19. 

In case that weren't enough, you then faced the collapse of the aviation industry — and the job insecurity that came with it. Airlines laid off thousands of workers at a time: flight attendants, ground crew, even pilots weren't immune, many of whom were forced into early retirement. 

Even if your job was ultimately spared, you probably didn't feel safe at the time. You surely have friends and colleagues who were impacted. I did. 

When travel began to open up again, masks were required. People who hadn't traveled in months experienced the usual travel anxieties on top of pandemic fatigue, frustration, and likely fear. The result was a huge spike in the number of unruly-passenger incidents and investigations, which jumped nearly 500% over the historical average last year. 

All of this takes a toll. It's stress…on top of stress…on top of stress. And it's not as if being a pilot was a low-stress job before the pandemic! 

Repeated stress over time adds up. It can have a cumulative effect on your well-being and on safety. That's why I'm incredibly thankful for ALPA's peer support program.

All of this could have resulted in tragedy. But it didn't.

​THAT is a testament to the perseverance of each and every one of you in this room. 

It's a testament to your safety leadership and to that of your colleagues who sit beside you in the cockpit and in the cabin. 

It's a testament to your collective professionalism and your dedication to safety. 

You haven't been given the thanks and recognition you deserve. The way I see it, the nation…the world…wouldn't have persevered without you. 

I applaud you, and I thank you on behalf of the traveling public and the NTSB. I also thank you as a grateful citizen. 

Speaking of gratitude, I know we're all thankful that the federal government invested in helping the airlines get through the unprecedented events of the last couple of years. 

Fortunately, COVID rates are declining. Air travel is gaining steam every day. Looking at my own schedule, I feel like it was off to the races once March hit! 

And yet, the system can't keep up. Operational disruptions are taking a major toll on commercial passenger aviation, on workers, and on the traveling public. 

But let me be clear: lowering safety standards to address the failure of some airlines to anticipate and adequately prepare for such a rapid recovery is not the answer. 

Seeking exemptions from pilot flight- and duty-time and minimum rest requirements is not the answer. 

Rolling back training criteria and qualification standards among other important safety requirements ​is not the answer.  

And risking our nation's extraordinary aviation safety record and the lives of flight crews and the traveling public is not the answer. 

Absolutely not! 

Now is the time for industry, labor, and the federal government to work together, to unit, to strengthen safety, because we are facing some real challenges. 

We have the most complex airspace in the world, and it's only going to become more congested. 

Today, nearly 900,000 drones are registered in the United States. The FAA expects that number will triple over the next five years. 

I mentioned commercial space. We've gone from one FAA-licensed launch and zero reentries in 2011 to 50 licensed launches and four reentries so far this year. That'll likely double by the end of the year. 

Add to all of this, advanced air mobility. 

We're looking at new fuels, including zero-emission electric planes and hydrogen. 

We're looking at more and more lithium-ion batteries transported on cargo planes. Think about how our nation's shift to electric vehicles will impact aviation and other transportation industries. 

We have new technologies on aircraft. 

Now, the NTSB has a long history of embracing technology to save lives, in all modes of transportation. Technology often makes us safer. And yet, it's not a cure-all. 

As far back as 1972, the NTSB has investigated aviation accidents where the interface between pilots and automated flight systems led to catastrophe. 

We've seen it in marine accidents and, increasingly, we're seeing it on our roads.  

A recent report from the Transportation Research Board on Emerging Hazards in Commercial Aviation says it well: “Even when new technology systems are implemented to improve safety, they may have unintended side effects." 

Innovation is great, but new technologies need be tested thoroughly and introduced responsibly. Especially when the stakes are so high. 

And new technologies need to be designed to supplement, not supplant or replace, a highly skilled workforce. 

It's important to note that the NTSB doesn't have formal recommendations on some of these issues. The nature of what we do and how we investigate accidents and incidents is, by definition, reactive. 

But we don't have to wait for tragedy to advocate for action. In fact, to save lives most effectively, we must look around the bend. 

I won't hesitate to draw lessons from the decades of NTSB experience investigating aviation accidents and even tragedies in other modes of transportation. 

I won't hesitate to be proactive, including on one issue I feel strongly about: the cargo carveout. 

The NTSB has been concerned about cargo crew fatigue for decades. In fact, many of the fatigue-related accidents we've investigated over the years involved cargo operators:

  • The 1993 cargo plane crash in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Three flight crewmembers sustained serious injuries.
  • The 1995 cargo plane crash near Kansas City, Missouri. All three crewmembers were killed.
  • The 2002 cargo plane crash near Tallahassee, Florida. The captain, first officer, and flight engineer were seriously injured.
  • The 2013 cargo plane crash near Birmingham, Alabama. The captain and first officer were killed. Just two weeks prior, we had written to the FAA saying we were “very concerned about the cargo exclusion." 

The fact is, cargo and passenger pilots operate the same types of aircraft, operate in the same airspace, and share the same runways and taxiways. The risk is just a great, if not greater, because of the time of day that cargo operations typically occur:  in the pre-dawn hours.

​But the most compelling argument for eliminating the cargo carveout is this: cargo pilots deserve the same protections as their colleagues in passenger aviation — and so do their families. 

When we talk about equity, THAT is an equity issue. 

Before I close, I want to talk about diversity and inclusion in aviation. I know this is important to ALPA, its membership, and Captain DePete. 

I'm only the fourth woman to serve as NTSB Chair since the agency was established in 1967 — 55 years ago. But, to improve safety for all communities, our agency must reflect the people we serve. 

Let me say that again: our agency must reflect the people we serve. 

Since my first day as Chair, I've been committed to advancing a culture of inclusion at the NTSB — both internally as an employer and externally through our investigations and safety advocacy. 

One definition of diversity is often overlooked, and that's diversity of thought. It means inviting in different views, opinions, and lived experiences. No one person can anticipate every risk or have every solution, so we need to embrace our differences and broaden our lens. Often times, this means noticing whose voice, whose perspective is absent — and inviting them in. 

Building a culture that embraces these values and makes everyone feel a sense of belonging isn't just the right thing to do — it's also the safe thing to do. 

That's why the aviation industry must also reflect the people it serves. 

“Without an inclusive environment, there can be no guarantee of safety." That's from the Royal Aeronautical Society. 

It's why “belonging" and “trust" are key to NASA's Safety Culture Model, which was developed following the 1986 Challenger disaster, where all seven crewmembers died. 

Just look at women in aviation. Women make up:

  • 19% of dispatchers.
  • 17% of air traffic controllers.
  • 3% of aviation CEOs.
  • Less than 3% of aviation mechanics. 

Women hold less than 9% of FAA-issued pilot certificates. 

It is getting better — but far too slowly. The percentage of all commercial pilot certificates held by women is increasing at a rate of just 1% a decade. Think about that. 

Much of the aviation workforce also lacks ethnic and racial diversity. Ninety-four percent of pilots are white. Black women represent less than 0.5% of all professional pilots. 

But it's not just about attracting women to careers in aviation; it's about retaining them. The fact is, 59% of women consider leaving their careers in aviation. That means nearly 6 out of every 10 women in this room. 

Why? 

Implicit bias discrimination. 

Lack of career opportunities. 

Lack of flexibility and work-life balance. 

That's what the studies show. 

Seventy-one percent of women report experiencing sexual harassment at work or in an aviation setting. Sixty-eight percent of flight attendants experienced it during their flying career. 

Fifty-one percent of women who reported it or complained about it experienced retaliation. 

Sixty-two percent say sexual harassment remains a significant problem in the aviation industry. 

And 81% of women in aviation say they've witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. 

It's unacceptable — all of it. 

The Women in Aviation Advisory Board recently made some recommendations to help address this from a system level. It includes some great ideas, like creating an industry-wide reporting system on gender bias.   

Imagine for just a moment what that could do to attract women to careers in aviation and ensure they stay. 

It's what I want for my daughter, Lexi. At age 14, Lexi knows that she wants to be an aerospace engineer when she grows up. 

It's what everyone's child deserves. 

Making aviation more inclusive, more equitable, will make everyone safer. Everyone.   

            Making our skies safer — that's always been a shared goal of the NTSB and ALPA. 

You know, I often hear how safe the aviation industry is. And it's true, especially in comparison to other modes of transportation. In seven of the last 10 years, there have been no airline passenger fatalities.   

But here's the thing: the absence of a fatality or an accident doesn't mean the presence of safety. 

The absence of a fatality or an accident doesn't mean the presence of safety. 

We cannot take safety for granted. I know you won't. It's our duty, our shared responsibility, to ensure safety. 

I commit to working with each of you to resolve the tough issues ahead. That's unity. 

At the same time, I also commit to showing strength alongside you. 

Strength to defeat any measure that goes against NTSB safety recommendations. 

Strength to take on new, emerging safety issues as needed. 

And strength to oppose any action that endangers safety. 

That means pilot safety. 

Flight crew safety. 

The safety of all frontline transportation workers. 

And the safety of the traveling public. 

Through our combined strength and through unity — that is how we persevere. 

Together in solidarity. 

Together in safety. 

Thank you. 

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