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Remarks before the Air Line Pilots Association, Washington, DC, August 18, 2004
Ellen Engleman Conners
Air Line Pilots Association, Washington, DC

First, and foremost thank you all. Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today. Thank you for your help and assistance, your coaching, teaching and support in addressing key safety issues. Thanks to John Cox for taking me on a cockpit jump seat ride so that I could see, literally, a day in the life of a pilot. Thank you to the ALPA members who offer their technical assistance in our accident investigations and thank you to the ALPA management team, led by Duane Woerth, for keeping me and the other members of the Board apprised of your thoughts and concerns.

The NTSB and ALPA together have a significant opportunity to truly make a difference in saving lives throughout the national transportation system.

Our national transportation system moves people, goods and services in a multi-modal and multi-national environment. The modes are interrelated and what happens in one will and does affect the others. It's been almost three years but we are all still feeling the effects of 9/11 in aviation. Yes, travel in all modes is increasing but challenges are still there.

When Chicago O'Hare has delays the ripple extends throughout the system. When the port of Los Angeles was closed, it cost $2 billion per day and affected the rail and trucking industries. When chlorine shipments were held up by rail immediately after 9/11, cities came within hours of not being able to support their water purification plants.

Interestingly many of the topics I discussed with you last year are still before us. The aviation industry is still reeling from the financial impacts of 9/11 and the market is adjusting slowly. For both passengers and pilots, new passenger and security screening requirements, remain -not headlines but day-to-day realities for you.

One constant remains the same, however, and must remain the same -- the issue of safety. I do not believe that there is or can be a question of choice between safety OR security - and I am defining security today to include economic security. In our post 9/11 world, a strong economy is one of our greatest weapons against terrorism. The direct impact of the airline industry on GDP is over $30 billion, and combined with related areas involving the hospitality and business sectors almost 10% of the total GDP. Therefore it is critical that all partners in this industry, management, maintenance, the pilots, the flight attendants, the airports -- work together to keep industry flying. We need the expertise, commitment and contributions to the industry, and to safety. Our ultimate mission is to ensure public confidence in the national transportation system.

It's sometimes hard to determine how to frame one's words and thoughts when everything you say is based on the fact that an accident occurred and that lives were lost. But it is in tribute to them, that the work of the NTSB is focused -- that out of tragedy may come the promise of a safer future. May we learn in order to protect. Since coming to the NTSB in March 2003, we have been involved in 2600 accident investigations, with 449 launches. We have published 20 accident reports and released 3,058 accident briefs. We have opened public dockets on 3081 reports.

ALPA has been a tremendous partner in safety. ALPA has provided technical expertise and has been shoulder to shoulder with us on many issues. Out of TWA 800 came fuel inerting initiatives; from US Airways flight 427 came the redesign of the 737 rudder system. ALPA and the Safety Board have been supporting issues of flight and duty hours for more than 20 years and I value this partnership for safety.

Open safety recommendations mean that the safety loop is not closed..... open recommendations mean that our job is not done.... the risks that have been identified still remain -- and action is yet to be completed.

So a key aspect of my tenure at the board has been to clean up the record of outstanding recommendations -- and we are focused in each mode, with the states and with industry to accomplish this task. And as I have stated many times, I fiercely believe that the NTSB's independence should not be interpreted as adversarial. We must be partners in achieving safety, our goals, our mission and our dedication to protecting lives must be on parallel if not overlapping paths. As you know, I asked the FAA, and the other modes, to establish a SWAT team approach -- Safety with a Team. And I am glad to report that in a very pragmatic fashion, FAA staff have been sitting down with NTSB staff to review the open recommendations and find out where the stalemate exists.

And I am delighted to say this effort is working. Since I last spoke with you, we have closed 351 recommendations in all modes, of which 80 were aviation recommendations. Today there are 821 open recommendations in all modes with 331 open in aviation. In March 2003 there were 1,025 open recommendations in all modes. Within the last year 177 new recommendations were issued in all modes, with 85 of these in aviation. Our SWAT results for aviation include hosting 7 meetings with 78 recommendations discussed, 36 closed. We have 20 more being closed at the moment with correspondence letters in coordination. Key results include 13 moved from open-unacceptable to either closed acceptable, or closed-acceptable alternate. I also asked Administrator Blakey to include resolution of NTSB recommendations to be an identified goal within the safety segment of the FAA in their 5 year strategic plan, "Flight Plan 2004-2008." I am please that the plan states that they will "take all actions necessary to address open NTSB recommendations."

And yet, key areas that continue to need resolution remain on our Most Wanted List: Runway incursions, icing, elimination of flammable fuel and air vapors in fuel tanks, and improvement of audio and data recorders, as well as requiring video recorders in the cockpit and requiring child restraint systems for children under 2.

The Board as a whole, the five Board members and the staff will continue to focus on these areas. We are all frustrated by the length of time that these issues have remained on the Most Wanted List and look forward to resolution. Last year, I told you that the National Transportation Safety Board relies on its partners in safety. I asked ALPA and industry partners to join the NTSB in developing an Air Cargo Safety Forum at the NTSB Academy. And you did. With your help and the help of other industry and transportation leaders, this timely discussion provided the first step in a long journey. But it a journey worth making and it will make a difference in achieving safer skies.

We must continue to talk. During the recent Board Hearing on imaging recorders ALPA was a vocal and important participant in these proceedings. Your testimony was integral to understanding the issues and your comments were heard. Like all policy issues, there are two sides of the story - or like I usually say - public policy is like a bowl of marbles - each changes affects the others to some degree. But we're all in this together. And safety is the ultimate goal. So if I may, let me share some of my thoughts as to key milestones ahead on our safety path.

As many of you know on a personal level the last 8 months have been challenging when my husband was diagnosed with cancer a week before our wedding. During this time of chemotherapy and doctors appointments the concept of statistics have become very personal to me. Statistically he had a 40% chance of surviving. Statistically aggressive lymphoma was a treatable form of cancer. But I wasn't thinking about statistics for I only had one husband and he is very important to me. Now we won this battle so statistically we are one of the lucky ones. But statistically there are thousands who are not.

It really boils down to this. Each time a family loses a loved one - whether to cancer or a transportation accident - statistics don't impact the pain and loss. It hurts and hurts badly.

During an accident investigation we have to focus on objective data, facts and science. We can't allow desires or supposition to influence or direct our activities. So let's focus on facts. When we held the Air Cargo Safety Forum at the NTSB academy, we had three NTSB board members attend along with 166 industry attendees with presentations by the NTSB, ALPA, FAA, FSF, Fedex, IPA, NACA and RAA. This forum initiated strong discussion and put facts on the table. We know the following:

  • There have been over 40 NTSB Cargo accident investigations since 1984
  • 2-5 times fatal accident risk than for passenger flights
  • Older Fleet (28 vs. 7 yrs.)
  • Differing certification standards of aircraft (modifications, non-standard configurations, supportability of aging airframes - manufacturers)
  • Differing certification standards of cargo handlers - loaders & ground crew
  • No ARFF requirements
  • No escape slides for crew
  • HAZMAT transport is still an issue, and maybe more so as the recent Lithium battery fire in FedEx cargo container illustrates.


As a citizen, I care about the husbands and wives of the crew who wait at home for their loved one's return. As an NTSB Board member I am encouraged by the openness of discussion by everyone involved. But as the Chairman of the NTSB, I will continue to make this one of my top priorities because air cargo safety is not an issue based on statistics; it's an issue of safety. In other words, the family waiting at home should have the same expectation of safety no matter where the pilot flies, what the pilot flies or for whom the pilot flies.

My second issue of personal interest to me is the continued concern about maintenance and training. Maintenance and training are key issues that must be addressed for there are under our control. They can be addressed and the amount of accidents due to these factors can, and must, be reduced.

Unfortunately in my job at the Board, I have seen too many final reports on aircraft accidents dealing with major contributing factors such as poor maintenance work practices, inadequate training, supervision, or oversight; as well as insufficient quality assurance. These are critical safety issues and cannot be overlooked or perceived as potential cost saving areas. The history books of commercial aviation have too many company names, which are no longer in business. Some of which unfortunately looked for shortcuts in safety and maintenance. Those are the ones that either the FAA or the marketplace changed their business status.

The aviation industry is remarkable. Since 9/11 the industry has proven itself to be dynamic and resilient. In spite of bankruptcies, increased competition and higher fuel prices air travel and air services are increasing. But as demand grows, so will costs and airlines will continue to look for ways to save money. We know, ALPA knows, that airlines today are under a great deal of pressure to reduce costs. Now as a former CEO of a research consortium, I certainly understand the importance of making a profit. It is one of the basic economic concepts that make our nation great. Our homeland security is dependent on our economic security. But I will not and cannot accept a philosophy that an airline or any operator should reduce their investment in maintenance, training or operations in order to make that profit. And that includes putting the pilots or crew at risk due to increased fatigue or stress.

So let's talk about human fatigue. It's still on our Most Wanted List and color- coded as yellow. Meaning progress is slow. The Board is investigating increasing numbers of accidents in all modes where fatigue was an issue -- for example: FedEx 1478 in Tallahassee, 2 recent highway accidents, the Victor, New York bus accident, and Memphis, Tennessee involving a 15 passenger child care van. A number of railroad accidents still under investigation are examining role of fatigue.

But in aviation, flight/duty time issues have still not been addressed for cargo carriers. I believe that there is continued need for fatigue management efforts similar to those being developed by DOT Operator Fatigue management Program. The NTSB will offer a 2-day Human Fatigue factors course at the NTSB Academy Sep 28-29. And we will continue to build on the knowledge gained by the Air Cargo Forum.

One last issue has great importance to me and it is a topic that was raised by former member John Goglia to whom I promised to continue to carry the banner. That is the issue of and related to Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting. Our recommendation A-01-66, said to the FAA that they should evaluate crash detection and location technologies, select the most promising candidate(s) for ensuring that emergency responders could expeditiously arrive at an accident scene, and implement a requirement to install and use the equipment.

It is currently open-unacceptable. The last letter from the FAA was February 2002, and our response was October 2002. The accident that prompted this recommendation (American MD-80 that overran the runway in Little Rock, Arkansas on June 1, 1999 was only one such example of the problem. There was also the case of a Learjet that crashed 2 miles short of the runway in Houston, but it took rescue people 2 hours to find the wreckage.

The FAA response was to encourage equipping ARFF trucks with forward looking infrared scopes. We responded that FLIR was an improvement, but did nothing for crash detection. The NTSB is aware of at least one system using COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) technology to detect a crash, get the GPS coordinates, and then automatically place a cell phone call to emergency responders -- sort of an On-Star for airplanes - that could be utilized. While the system was successfully tested at the FAA Tech Center when they did their ATR drop about 2 years ago, we are not aware of any further consideration or progress.

Since 9/11 our first responders are consider to be on the frontlines of the battle. Millions of dollars have been invested in new technologies and tools for them. Shouldn't our ARFF personnel be given the same recognition and tools to get the job done? Whether we field FLIR or ELTs we must be able to ensure the outcome will be the ability to accurately locate aircraft, both on and off the airport property.

As Chairman, it is my privilege to help lead the NTSB continue to focus on the national transportation system and how we can enhance safety in all modes. One of the key tools we have to address these safety challenges are our NTSB Academy. The opening of the NTSB academy marked a significant milestone for the NTSB. This leased facility is located on the grounds of George Washington University in Ashburn, Virginia offers new opportunities for safety partnership. I know several of you have already been there - for a training class or the Air Cargo Safety Forum, but I invite you all. The NTSB Academy houses the NTSB safety training programs, and is already hosting safety symposia, roundtable discussions and forums. In the future, it will formulate safety partnerships for research, development and implementation of new technologies and create a sanctuary for discussion of key safety issues and topics.

Currently, we are offering courses such as:

  • a two-and-a-half-week course in basic aircraft accident investigation for newly hired investigators from the NTSB, industry, and other government agencies from the U.S. and other nations.
  • a comprehensive family assistance course for those who assist friends and families of major transportation accident victims.
  • a course of airline industry training to familiarize industry representatives with their duties and responsibilities during NTSB accident investigations.
  • a newly developed course designed for law enforcement officers who initially respond to transportation disasters.


You will see and hear the Board continue to discuss safety issues involving hard core drunk driving, the need for primary seatbelt legislation, child safety protection devices, safety in recreational boating, helicopters and rail, maintenance, human factors and airport response and firefighting. We have a lot of work to do. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today and thank you for being a key partner in safety.