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Statement at Opening of General Aviation Symposium, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
General Aviation Symposium, Washington, DC

Welcome to our first-ever General Aviation (GA) Accident Prevention Symposium. Before I begin, I want to thank Dennis Jones, Julie Beal, and the other Board employees who helped put this symposium together.

I called for this symposium to bring together members of the general aviation community to discuss operational, airworthiness, and maintenance issues that affect the safety of GA flying. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regional investigators will present information on accidents followed by panel discussions on the issues associated with the specific accident. The accident reports being presented involve stall/spin; spatial disorientation; visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions; inadequate maintenance; crew resource management; and a mid-air collision.

It is most fitting that such a gathering be hosted by this agency. For decades, the Bureau of Safety within the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated civil aviation accidents. With the advent of the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1967, the Bureau of Safety was removed from the CAB and formed the nucleus of the new NTSB. The 180 or so employees of the Bureau were supplemented by investigators from the other modes of transportation to fill out the new multi-modal investigative agency.

We were pretty stretched from Day One. The original NTSB had one metallurgist and shortly thereafter got a second. There was one individual in the Cockpit Voice Recorder lab and two individuals in the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) Lab. The FDRs of that era were lead foil recorders that recorded five pieces of data with a stylus and was read out by an individual using a magnifying glass and the naked eye. With electron scanning microscopes and solid state flight recorders containing data from hundreds of parameters, you can see how dramatically the NTSB has changed from those days.

GA has changed over the years, too. After a decade or so of dormancy, the industry is on the rebound. I think people from other parts of the world would be astounded to learn the extent of aviation in our country:

  • There are more than 640,000 pilots flying in all aspects of aviation, from air carrier to general aviation. This number is expected to grow to over 700,000 in 2003.
  • We have over 206,000 actively flying GA aircraft and by 2003 that is expected to grow to over 215,000.
  • GA pilots are flying about 30 million hours each year and that is expected to increase to 33 million hours by 2003.

This industry is large and getting larger, and the General Aviation Manufacturers' Association (GAMA) has amassed some very impressive statistics to prove it. In 1999, industry billings reached $7.9 million, up 35 percent in one year. It was just three years earlier that GAMA announced with great fanfare that for the first time in history the industry had annual billings of just over $3 billion. The industry recorded a double-digit increase of general aviation aircraft shipped. In 1999, GAMA companies shipped 2,525 total units, 14 percent more than in 1998.

Turbine-engine shipments also grew in 1999. Total turbine shipments were up 13 percent to 778. Although turboprops dropped nearly 3 percent to 264 units in 1999, turbofan shipments increased by 24 percent to 514 units.

The GA industry is a significant contributor to our nation's balance of payments. Exports increased five percent from 535 units in 1998 to 562 units in 1999. The dollar value of those exports reached $2.5 billion, up 53 percent from the previous year. Overall, exports accounted for 32 percent of total industry billings last year. Exports have been going up consistently for a number of years now. That is particularly interesting when you consider the environment in which that growth has been occurring.

To quote GAMA's newsletter, "In the past few years, Mexico has gone through a very painful devaluation of the peso, Asia caught the flu, Brazil experienced a financial crisis, and significant military actions have occurred in and around the Balkans. Still, despite all of the instability in the world economy, GAMA continues to see a growing demand for general aviation aircraft.

Clearly, there is a growing worldwide acceptance of general aviation as both an important business tool and a necessary element of economic development. There is still a huge amount of untapped potential in the international arena."

Among the many changes affecting the general aviation industry is the source of new pilots for the air carrier industry. In the past the major supplier of pilots was the military. This pool is dwindling and they now look to the general aviation pilot as a major source of new pilots. GA pilots acquire their certificates by contracting with a Certified Flight Instructor or by attending a pilot training school.

These pilots have many factors to consider as they move into the more complicated world beyond the private certificate. One such area is the instrument rating, which gives the pilot the flexibility to fly the aircraft in instrument conditions. The challenge of flying more sophisticated aircraft is accomplished by achieving the multi-engine rating and finally the Air Transport Rating.

As you probably know, the GA community, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the NTSB have joined together in a safety initiative called Safer Skies. I am pleased that we are participating in this initiative and look forward to the positive effects of their end product.

Which brings me back to the NTSB's primary role with GA, to facilitate the improvement of transportation safety. The Board is responsible for the investigation, determination of the facts, conditions, and circumstances and the probable cause of accidents involving civil aircraft, and certain public aircraft.

As you know, the Board makes transportation safety recommendations to Federal, State, and local agencies and private organizations to reduce the likelihood of recurrences of transportation accidents. We currently have 45 regional investigators who conduct over 2,000 investigations each year. Additionally we have two investigators who are totally dedicated to the approximate 100 foreign accidents that are occurring each year. By the way, the number of foreign accidents we work on has tripled in one year.

The investigators who primarily investigate aircraft accidents in the United States have an average workload of 45 cases. Depending on the accident, a simple ground loop to a loss of control in flight of a turbojet aircraft, the number of hours of investigative work by a single investigator can vary from as few as 24 hours to as many as over 200 hours. In many of the more complex accidents additional help in the form Air Traffic Control specialists, engineering or weather specialists may be required thus increasing the time expended on the investigation. Most importantly during the course of the investigation is the need to identify the safety issues and the subsequent proposals sent by the investigative team to the Board suggesting recommendations that would prevent the likelihood of recurrence of that aircraft accident. An awesome task, and an important one!

For example, many Part 91 flights are closely related to commercial operations in their common use of aircraft, components and airspace. A regional investigation of a Part 91 Cessna Citation accident in Billings, Montana, generated a safety proposal that resulted in a Special Investigative Report with 19 recommendations related to Boeing 757 aircraft, wake turbulence and air traffic control procedures.

You will meet some of our regional investigators here today both in the audience and making presentations. They are talented, dedicated individuals who have chosen a career field emblematic of the best in public service. They travel to the scenes of accidents that vary from deserts and triple digit temperatures (but it's a dry heat) to the far north with temperatures reaching minus 40 degrees.

They face wild animals, as one of our investigators recently learned in Alaska, when he was challenged by no fewer than five bears. The bears departed the site only after being shot at and threatened by a helicopter. I am hopeful that our funding will allow us to increase the number of regional investigators, allowing more time to address the associated safety issues.

We are greatly assisted in our mission by the FAA, which is by mandate a party to our investigations. FAA inspectors, by law, have nine areas of responsibility to examine on each and every accident. I would like to thank Jane Garvey, the Administrator of the FAA, for her continued support of our investigations through the FAA's Flight Standards District Office inspectors.

In closing, let me say that the NTSB is not only one of the premier accident investigation agencies in the world, it is also the national archives of what not to do. We have investigated well over 100,000 aviation accidents in our 33-year history. Final reports on about 40,000 of them are available to everyone in the world on our website.

It is our mission to share this information with the GA community to continue the improving accident rate trend. Just in the decade of the '90s, the rate of accidents for GA aircraft per 100,000 flight hours dropped 9 percent; the fatal accident rate dropped 19 percent.

These are not just statistics. These are lives saved - productive individuals who go safety home to their families and their communities.

Just over a year ago the Nation experienced the pain that one of these crashes caused two families to endure. This is being repeated in other families every week and that is why it takes all of us - not only at the Board, but throughout the GA community, to get our safety message across to the hundreds of thousands of GA pilots out there.

As a means of getting the safety message of this symposium out to the flying public, we will make a broadcast of this meeting available on our website, and tapes of it will be shown at airshows like Oshkosh and Sun N Fun.

We have a very full two days ahead of us, so let's get started. I am honored to introduce a United States Senator who has worked tirelessly to improve safety in all modes of transportation, the Honorable Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey.

Senator Lautenberg and I have several things in common: We are both Democrats, we are both military veterans, and we will both soon be leaving our current positions. The Senator is retiring after 18 very active years. I will be leaving the Board after 7 years that have seen some level of activity.

Senator Lautenberg is currently Ranking Member of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Before the 1994 elections, he was Chairman of that subcommittee. His years of service in the Senate have been distinguished by his concern for the well being of America's traveling public.

During his tenure, he authored laws that established 21 as the national legal drinking age - legislation that the Board believed would reduce the human toll drinking and driving had been exacting on our teenage population.

And, in fact, this law has proven its worth by saving 19,000 lives since 1984. Senator Lautenberg is now working to establish .08 as a national drunk driving standard - another measure that I strongly support.

Senator Lautenberg wrote the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, which was passed in the wake of the downing of Pan American flight 103, and he authored key elements of the Federal Aviation Administration Act of 1996, which tightened airport and airline safety and security rules. He was also the driving force in banning smoking aboard U.S. airliners.

Please welcome a great friend of the Board's and the aviation community, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg.