Opening Remarks Safety Symposium, HAI Heli-Expo

​​​​Good morning, everyone. Jim- thank you for the introduction and to HAI for their support and collaboration as we work together to improve rotorcraft safety. It’s a privilege to speak to you all today and help kick off the Safety Symposium. Even though I’m a fixed wing aviator, I’ve always had deep respect for helicopter pilots. I started my career as a Naval Aviator flying the A-7 Corsair and the F/A-18 Hornet. Aircraft carrier pilots were a tough group that frequently ate our young. If someone made a mistake, we let them have it. This was all done to make you a better combat and carrier aviator. Any mistake was fair game, and no fixed wing aviator was exempt from it. But the one squadron we never messed with was the lone helicopter squadron on the carrier. That’s because you never knew when that day might come that you would have to eject and rely on the helicopter pilots to rescue you. 

As most of you know, the NTSB releases a Most Wanted List. The Most Wanted List highlights transportation safety improvements that are needed now to prevent accidents, reduce injuries, and save lives. One item on this year’s Most Wanted List is Safety Management Systems. That is because the Board continues to investigate accidents that could have been prevented had the operator had an effective SMS. When I began my career in aviation safety, the safety department was often seen as “the office down the hall”. The safety manager would put up posters on the wall that just said “Be safe”. If an incident occurred, management looked for who to blame or what happened before understanding why the incident occurred or how it happened. With the advent of Safety Management Systems, safety went from the back office to the front office. SMS brings safety-conscious behavior to the forefront of an organization – every day, every task. This allows organizations to identify and mitigate hazards before an incident occurs. The most important part of an SMS is employee engagement and their full participation. Each employee must be empowered and understand that they are the safety officer of the operation. Without their reporting and involvement, the operation will be blind to the many hazards and risks that are facing the operation daily. When an incident does occur, we are no longer asking ourselves “Who?” or “What?” but rather “How?” and “Why?” It’s imperative we understand the answers to these questions to improve our safety systems. 

The theme for this year’s HeliExpo is “Find the Future”. The only thing I know about the future of aviation is that it will be different than it is today. Already there are over 300 thousand drones registered with the FAA for commercial use. And one cannot read aviation news without seeing a story about another vertical takeoff company promising to revolutionize aviation. No matter what new technologies emerge in the future; we must maintain a high level of safety. At the NTSB, we are dedicated to protecting the integrity of the traveling public – no matter how the public travels. And how people travel may look very different in the future. We have also created a position at the Board to identify new technologies, ensure our investigators receive the necessary training, and maintain the Board’s leading investigative expertise. 

I want to thank all of you for being here today. It is a privilege to speak with such a tremendous group of aviation professionals. By attending the Safety Symposium, each one of you is demonstrating a commitment to rotorcraft safety. But we cannot operate in silos. Safety must be collaborative. Conferences like HeliExpo are important because they break down the barriers between competitors and allow for collaboration and shared experience. I encourage you to network, exchange stories, and learn from each other. However, our collaboration cannot end here. Your operation is only as safe as its weakest player. I challenge each one of you to take back the lessons learned, share it with your friends and colleagues, and be the catalyst for change. Together we can improve Rotorcraft safety. 

I’m really looking forward to the next few days. I hope I can meet and learn from some of you about the safety concerns that you are facing in the industry. Thank you again for inviting me and I wish everyone a safe and successful Heli-Expo.