Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


Remarks before the AAAE International Airport Security Conference and Trade Show, Dublin, Ireland, July 8, 2005
Ellen Engleman Conners
AAAE International Airport Security Conference and Trade Show, Dublin, Ireland

It is my privilege to serve as a member of the NTSB, along with Vice Chairman Mark Rosenker, formerly of the White House Military Office, Member Dick Healing, formerly of the US Coast Guard and private sector, and Member Debbie Hersman, formerly with the Senate Commerce Committee. Additionally, we have one Board Member opening that should be filled in the near future.

As many of you know, at the NTSB our focus is investigating for the probable cause of transportation accidents. But while our focus is on safety, we recognize the importance of transportation security. In fact, I believe that if something is to be considered completely and truly safe, then it naturally follows that it is also secure.

Security has always been an issue in aviation. In the early years, airport security was primarily focused on keeping stray livestock off the runways and ensuring that passengers did not get near whirling propellers. As time moved forward, airport security was enhanced. However, the events of September 11, 2001, dramatically changed everyone's view of airport security.

On September 11, I was working for the Department of Transportation and had as part of my job duties the responsibility for the Department's Crisis Management Center. I arrived at work shortly before the first aircraft impacted the World Trade Center. What was to have been a normal workday on a beautiful Tuesday morning lasted 38 hours as the CMC coordinated the emergency communication for the department under the Federal Response Plan.

The current focus on security is a permanent part of our new world. The vicious attacks in London yesterday morning are an unfortunate reminder of that new reality. However, as devastating as 9/11's and yesterday's attacks are, we must not forget that transportation safety is equally important. For the aviation community, if either security fails or safety fails, future travelers will simply not show up at the airport. However, the families of those lost in that day's events will. They will be coming to you for answers, for it is your terminal where they either last saw their loved ones or had hoped to see them next.

If, heaven forbid, you should ever be faced with such a circumstance, at the NTSB we have a trained cadre of family support professionals who can be of assistance to you. I encourage you to talk with our office of transportation disaster assistance at any time to help prepare for what we all hope you will never have to face.

There still remain serious safety issues that need to be addressed -- for instance, runway incursions. At the Safety Board, we consider runway incursions one of the most serious safety issues, and there is a reason it is on our Most Wanted List of safety improvements. There were 383 runway incursions in the US alone last year -- that averages out to more than one a day and is almost double the 200 that occurred in 1994. And although that is 43 fewer than in 2000, we have to remember that air traffic was greatly reduced in the last quarter of the year.

We have had some very close calls, and with the growth in air travel and the lack of airport capacity, we cannot count on the odds always being on our side. Last year's near miss at Los Angeles showed that the system has serious flaws and that we cannot continue to rely on luck.

On October 8, 2001, luck ran out in Milan, Italy, when a SAS MD-82 and a Cessna Citation collided on the runway killing 123 people. This was an accident that could have happened nearly anywhere in the world.

Over the years, the Safety Board has issued recommendations to address runway incursions - - calling for procedural changes, education efforts, and technological improvements. In 1991, the Safety Board recommended a collision avoidance system for aircraft ground operations. In response, the FAA began implementing the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS), which gives controllers at the busiest airports valuable information on potential collisions. However, AMASS has its limitations. It won't prevent runway incursions in all situations, mostly because the current AMASS parameters may not provide controllers sufficient time to prevent collisions. It also does not directly alert flight crews of potential collisions. AMASS such as it now exists most likely would not have prevented the accident in Milan.

So, we need to continue to look at additional technological solutions, such as AMASS automatically informing flight crews, employing ground loop technology, runway stop-bars, in-pavement lighting, and airport surface sensors using GPS technology.

We all recognize that there is not an unlimited supply of funds and that safety and security can at times have very different needs. For instance, the use of placards for HAZMAT identification was challenged by many in the security world as a kind of "you are here" pointer for identification of targets or tools. For the safety world they are a useful tool to let emergency responders know what is being transported. And for the safety regulator, his job is to promote safety while the security woman seeks to support security. We have two worlds colliding. The world of security, by its nature, has more of a close it down/lock it up/"need to know" mentality, while the world of safety, by its nature, must promote an open it up/come take a look/"let us tell you what we're seeing" communications model. They are almost opposite in their approaches and yet these two worlds must now interact and work together.

When balancing safety and security, I look at the ABC's. Issue one that we have to do in this new post-9/11 reality is assessment and acceptance -- assessment of our vulnerabilities and acceptance of the fact that security is a part of everything that we do. So assessment and acceptance are the "A." The aviation industry has faced up to this challenge. Security is a part of your business environment.

The "B" is what I'm going to call the buddy system. That means it has to be done in partnership, and it is not just the Federal government that has the answers, it is the state government, it is the local government, it is the private sector, it is the universities, and it is individual citizens. We are all in this together, and so I like to say that it is the buddy system that has to work.

And we have to look at combinations and collaboration of how we are going to interact. So that's my "C," combination and collaboration.

So where does this lead? Well, "D" is for direction. What is the direction we must take on a policy perspective, on a technical perspective, on a legislative perspective, on an economic perspective? For me the key is safety. In the majority of the nations in the world, when you talk about safety, safety and security are used interchangeably and they are actually the same word. The administrative requirements, the laws, the agencies themselves work on safety and security. So we cannot ignore the two and how they must go together.

But how do we deal with safety or security issues together, and how do they interact? Well, let me give you some examples of why you cannot separate safety and security. The hardening of cockpit doors in airplanes is a security issue, is it not? But it is also a safety issue, because if there's a problem in the plane, can the pilots get out? Or does the cockpit need to be accessed by those outside the plane? Transportation of hazardous materials is another important issue. Again, there are 800,000 shipments of HAZMAT every day. Then, of course, there is the human element and this encompasses everything from background security checks of airport workers, to foreign students wanting to attend US flight schools, to screening requirements of passengers. Then come the issues of TFRs, closing of airports to general aviation, and the financial impact of the last 46 months to the aviation community as a whole.

As you know, the airline industry has lost over $23 billion since 9/11 and the Air Transportation Stabilization Board has distributed over $4.6 billion since its inception. The development of security standards and safety standards has been a challenge and is a permanent part of your business environment.

With civil aviation representing 9% of our domestic GNP, exceeding 900 billion dollars and over 11 million jobs, we have to get this right. Because the American aviation industry is one of the areas where we have a trade surplus of 40 percent, our economy and the world economy are connected. And most importantly our economy is the biggest weapon we have against terrorism. So we have to do both, safety and security. But here is also an issue that has to be considered when any industry begins to focus on costs as an isolated factor - cost reduction must factor in the need for safety.

And one of the critical elements of all safety is trained and experienced personnel. In the Federal government, investment in human capital is a core focus. Our people are our greatest assets - which includes their experience and knowledge. They are invaluable and should be protected. And training and experience are connected to safety.

Now, for those of you who invest in the stock market, you know that public confidence is that one amorphous thing that is hard to grab hold of, but without it, people will not invest. Well, without public confidence in the safety of our transportation system, it will be difficult to keep the traveling public's trust -- and please remember as I began my comments, the transportation system itself was the weapon on 9/11. This is why we must ensure that public confidence remains secure in our public transportation system, and that means all modes: cars, trucks, rails, boats, trains and planes. A major safety accident or a security incident will affect public confidence.

Transportation is intermodal, international and interconnected. You cannot be isolated in today's world. All modes interact. When the Port of Los Angeles was closed, the impact was over $1 billion dollars day. When fuel prices skyrocket, costs to airlines increase and profitability goes down. When TSA requests passenger lists the timing chain for all flights is affected. So there are no borders when it comes to transportation. Again, it is intermodal, international and interconnected. And most importantly, when a major event happens, whether it is a safety accident or a security incident, public confidence in the transportation system will be affected and must be restored.

This is the new face of safety, and I see the NTSB having a significant role. We are the bully pulpit, and I have been quoted as saying, "I plan on having daily services." Because we are not a safety regulator, as you know. We are an independent, technical agency. We must make our recommendations based on fact, science and data; not guesswork, not desire, not supposition and not influenced by others. This is important. Our recommendations are based on facts, science and data that look at the safety issues to ensure that all transportation is safe; because when you boil it all down, safe systems result in healthier public confidence, and healthier public confidence results in a healthier transportation community.

Thank you again for asking me to be here today.