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Remarks at the International Pilot Symposium, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
International Pilot Symposium, Washington, DC

Thank you, Duane, for your kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here with so many members of the pilot community from around the world. And, I'm especially honored to be here this morning with John Sweeney and Jane Garvey.

I want to talk to you this morning about the responsibility that the National Transportation Safety Board has to ensure the safety of the aviation transportation system - and our responsibility to all parts of that system - to the pilot community, to the mechanics, to the flight attendants, to the regulators, to the manufacturers, to the traveling public, and of course, to the American people.

In fulfilling that responsibility, I wanted to come here today to thank the men and women of ALPA. In the almost six years that I've been Chairman, ALPA has participated in more than 50 major and regional accident and incident investigations, including our most recent major investigation into the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261. Each of these is a tragedy and can point to failures in our safety system. However, when an accident does occur, we must determine what happened and why - so that, in the end, we have a safer aviation system - for you as pilots and for your passengers.

Part of my responsibility is to look to the future and plan ahead. That's why I asked the RAND Corporation to review the Safety Board's operations and procedures to ensure that we were ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century. I asked them to look at two areas: the staff's capabilities and the party process. They told us that although there will be fewer major accidents in the United States in the future, they'll be more complex. In other words, accident investigations like those of USAir flight 427 and TWA flight 800 will be the norm - not the exception. They also told us, among other things, that the party process should continue to exist as an important source of information. However, the Board needs to augment that process by tapping additional sources of outside expertise.

We're currently reviewing the report to determine how we will implement its recommendations. However, I have already asked our Managing Director and representatives from each of the modes to study our go-team process and recommend changes to improve how we initially respond to an accident. I expect a report from the team in the near future.

In its report, Rand projected tremendous growth in all areas of transportation. By 2010, domestic enplanements will grow from 561 million to over 850 million; the domestic commercial air carrier fleet will increase from just over 5,000 aircraft to more than 7,500 aircraft; the worldwide fleet double in size to 20,000 aircraft by 2010; and the number of our citizens travelling by air will increase from 126 million to 230 million.

These projections clearly reflect the increasingly global nature of the aviation transportation system. One response to this globalization has been the creation of a series of alliances or code-shares between airlines around the world. Undoubtedly, this has significant economic benefits for the airlines. However, the benefits to passengers who fly those code-shares aren't so apparent. Often, they're not aware that buying a ticket on "airline A" means that they'll actually be flying on "airline B." Some argue that it doesn't matter. And, in most instances it may not - as long as both airlines provide the same level of safety and security to their passengers.

Passengers deserve to have that information so that they can make their own choices. They need to know that when they buy a ticket on Delta that they will be flying on Swissair or when they buy a ticket on Air France that part of the trip will be actually be on TAME. But, more importantly, they have every right to expect the same level of safety between code-sharing airlines. Code-sharing implies that there's seamless, safe transportation network. The airlines and the government must ensure that this perception is a reality. That's why I was pleased to learn of Secretary Slater's recent announcement about new guidelines for safety audits by U.S. airlines, based on ICAO safety standards, for their code-share partners.

Because more of our citizens are flying internationally and more of our U.S. manufactured equipment is being used by foreign airlines, the Safety Board is being asked to assist in an increasing number of international accident investigations. Over the past two years, we have assisted in more than 124 accident and incident investigations around the world. Our facilities here in D.C. are also increasing becoming a focal point for international aviation investigators. On just one day last year, we had representatives from five different countries working in our laboratory.

The Safety Board has also been actively working with other countries to train their investigators, especially in the Far East. This is in addition to our in-house two-week accident investigation courses we conduct here in Washington. Investigators from around the world have attended those sessions.

Over the next year, we are going to significantly expand our training program and open our own training academy. The academy's courses will be developed and taught by experienced accident investigators with the expertise and formal training that will make our programs the best available accident investigation training in the world. We'll also offer conferences and seminars designed to maintain and advance the state of the art in transportation safety. As we chart a course for the academy, I hope that all of will share your ideas and experiences with us - so that we can be sure we're addressing the needs of the transportation safety community worldwide.

If the Rand report is correct that accidents will become even more complex, we'll need not only better trained investigators, we'll need more - and better - data to help them determine the cause of those accidents. The success of other initiatives such as Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) also depends on the collection and analysis of accurate data.

I can't think of a better argument for improving both flight and cockpit data recorders. At a minimum, we need more parameters recorded, longer recording time, backup electrical power, and improved crash survivability. As you may know, the Board has been asking for these enhancements for years. Yet, as you all know, there's been little progress. As a result, we've had long, arduous investigations and extensive and exhaustive search and recovery efforts that have proven to be very expensive - neither of which may have been necessary if more information had been available to investigators.

You have to wonder why we aren't all doing everything possible to gather as much accurate data as possible. But, we need to think beyond the present. We need to consider what our future needs will be and plan for them. That's one reason why I asked Administrator Garvey, at our data recorder symposium last May, to explore, along with the NTSB, the industry, and academia, our joint vision for the next generation of data recorders. That effort is underway and we hope to have a forum on the subject early this fall.

Recent accidents being investigated by the NTSB, such as EgyptAir flight 990 and Alaska Airlines flight 261, have already indicated a need for video recorders on board aircraft. I have asked the NTSB staff to examine the possibility of recommending that video recorders be placed on commercial air carriers in the near future.

Last summer, in its report on an accident involving a public use aircraft in Montrose, Colorado, the Board asked the FAA to require video recorders on single engine, turboprop aircraft operating under Part 135. Board staff is also examining the technical feasibility of cockpit video recording requirements for Part 121 operations, so that the characteristics of the cockpit environment and the actions of the flight crew can be clearly documented.

I know that many of you here as well as your fellow pilots are vehemently opposed to video recorders in the cockpit. Frankly, I can't understand why. I believe that they can help clarify what actually happens during an accident or incident. When investigators can see what actions were being taken in the cockpit, they can quickly eliminate unnecessary and unwarranted speculation.

We recognize that as we increase the amount and use of data, we also have the responsibility to respect the privacy of pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers and others whose actions and words may have been captured by a recording. In the United States and elsewhere in the world, the importance of protecting the rights of the pilots and others engaged in safety-related tasks must be balanced against the protection of those who entrust their lives to them.

To help us better understand these issues, the NTSB will be conducting a symposium on this subject - and the increasing criminalization of accident investigations - on April 25 and 26, here in Washington. Many leading members of the legal and aviation communities will be participating in the symposium and I invite all of you to attend and share your concerns with other participants from around the world. You can find more information on the symposium on our website and I left some brochures in the back of the room for you.

There is one responsibility that ALPA and the NTSB share - ensuring that the truth about an accident is told. That's why the Safety Board is committed to releasing verified, factual information to the public as soon as possible. Indeed, the only way we can counter speculation is to release timely, accurate information. While there are those who might complain about the number of NTSB briefings and press releases, not providing the facts leaves the airways open for the irresponsible and uninformed to confuse the public and undermine their confidence in not only their government, but the airline industry as well.

Unfortunately, there are those who choose to feed rumors and speculation and some who are not above pure fabrication. It's unfortunate that some members of the aviation community, even parties to an investigation, who, to put their spin on an issue, leak preliminary information or provide "expert" speculation to the media. None of this serves the investigative process or aviation safety well.

Before I close, let me address an issue that Duane mentioned earlier - fatigue.

The NTSB has been concerned about fatigue since the 1980s after it was cited or suspected of being a factor in at least two aviation accidents - the in-flight upset of China Airlines flight 006 on February 19, 1985, and the crash of an Arrow Air charter flight on December 12, 1985, that killed 248 American soldiers. In 1989, we asked DOT to review and hours-of-service regulations in all transportation modes to assure that they were consistent and that they incorporated the results of the latest research on fatigue and sleep issues.

In the 11 years since we made those recommendations, there has been a lot of activity, but little action. However, as a result of your efforts to improve pilot rest rules, last June, the FAA announced that it intended to enforce the existing regulations concerning flight time limitations and rest requirements - regulations that date back to 1985. These rules require airlines to provide reserve pilots with a pre-scheduled and protected eight-hour rest period sometime during the 24-hour period prior to completion of a flight assignment. Because these regulations weren't enforced, airlines could require their reserve pilots to be "on call" 24 hours a day for several consecutive days without giving them the legally mandated crew rest.

Although we're pleased that the FAA intends to enforce its existing regulations, we're still concerned that no further rulemaking has been taken on the overall issue of hours of service and that duty and rest requirements continue to be different for Part 121 and Part 135 operations. Further delays are unacceptable and endanger the traveling public as well as flight crews.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to be here today. I have always been impressed with the dedication and professionalism of your members. Although we may occasionally disagree on issues, we all take our responsibility to ensure a safe transportation system seriously. By continuing to work together, we will fulfill that responsibility.