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Opening Statement at the American Airlines Flight 587 Press Conference
Marion C. Blakey
National Transportation Safety Board, American Airlines Flight 587 Press Conference, Washington, DC

Thank you all for coming. I am Marion Blakey, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. With me today - - Mr. Tom Haueter, Deputy Director of the NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety, and Mr. Robert Benzon, Investigator-in-Charge of the crash of American Airlines flight 587. Our purpose in holding this briefing today is to provide an update on the Safety Board's investigation into the November 12, 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587 and to release safety recommendations that have arisen at this early stage in our investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the crash of flight 587 is continuing. The goal of this investigation - - as in every investigation - - is to determine the cause of the accident and prevent its reoccurrence.

Almost 3 months ago, 265 people lost their lives when flight 587, an Airbus A-300-600, crashed into a neighborhood in Belle Harbor, New York. This was the second deadliest aviation accident in United States history. As you may know, the vertical stabilizer broke off the plane when it was at an altitude of approximately 2400 feet and traveling at 255 knots.

Let me tell you briefly where we are in the investigation. We are in the midst of a very disciplined and thorough investigative process:

o Using facilities at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, we are examining the vertical stabilizer and rudder that separated from the aircraft in flight.

o Our investigators traveled to France and Germany to examine the manufacturing process of the stabilizer, to document the certification process of the aircraft, and to match flight data recorder information with known flight characteristics of the aircraft.

o We sent investigators to Oklahoma and Arizona to tear down the engines and auxiliary power unit, and to examine the maintenance records of the aircraft and the flight records of the pilots.

o We are examining the airline's training practices, and will be conducting ground tests of Airbus flight controls. NTSB engineers are analyzing data from both flight recorders.

o As you may know, investigators are also examining video footage of Flt. 587 captured on several Marine Parkway Bridge cameras.

We are continuing to investigate other incidents reported to us and the FAA that might provide additional information for this investigation. For example, several pilots reported experiencing on rudder oscillations on their A300-600 aircraft while in flight. We removed the yaw dampers from two of those aircraft and are examining them this week in France.

In addition, last week FedEx reported that during a routine check of an Airbus A-300-600, slight structural damage was noted on the rudder although this rudder is not the same design as the rudder on the Flt. 587 accident aircraft, it was removed for further examination and has been sent to NASA Langley.

We are also examining its flight data recorder to see if it recorded any unusual rudder movements.

And there have been some other instances as well. I mention these because it is important that the traveling public knows how thoroughly we track down these incidents.

Now lets turn to the safety issue at hand.

During the course of any investigation, the NTSB issues interim safety recommendations when it finds a matter of concern that needs immediate attention, whether or not the investigation itself is complete. Many times, interim safety recommendations address matters that are later found not to have caused or contributed to the accident. Nevertheless, they often identify safety problems that could cause accidents in the future.

Today, we are issuing two interim safety recommendations. We have written to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Jane Garvey, urging the agency to take action. While our letter describes our findings comprehensively - - and we will have copies of the letter available after the meeting - - let me say briefly, our work during the flight 587 investigation has revealed a safety concern regarding rudder inputs. We have calculated that certain rudder movement inputs by pilots could cause a catastrophic failure of an airliner's vertical tail fin. This concern is not limited to the A-300, or even to Airbus models. Our concern is industry wide.

Based on interviews with the pilot community, it appears that many pilots have not been made aware that full rudder inputs, under certain conditions, can jeopardize the integrity of the vertical tail fin, or that in some airliner models, full rudder deflections can be achieved with small pedal movements and comparatively light pedal forces. For example, in some aircraft, especially at higher speeds, about thirty pounds of pressure placed on the rudder pedals and an inch and a half of motion - - which is not much - - can create significant rudder movements.

We are asking the FAA to require pilot training programs that describe the certification requirements for airliner models, that explain the consequences of rudder use in circumstances described in our letter, and that identify the light pedal forces needed to achieve maximum pedal deflections at high speeds.

As you may know, throughout the course of the investigation our French counterpart, the BEA has been working very closely with NTSB investigators. Not only does the BEA agree with the importance of the recommendations that we are issuing today, but they will also mirror our recommendations when they issue theirs to the DGAC.

It is important to note that the NTSB is in the early stages of its investigation and has not come to any conclusion about what caused the crash of Flt. 587. We know there was a series of reversing rudder movements leading up to the failure of the plane's vertical stabilizer, but we do not know: (1) if those rudder movements caused the stabilizer's failure, or (2) if those rudder movements were caused by the pilots. Let me stress here - - because it is very important that we all clearly understand that this recommendation is about pilot education and training - - and is not a question of pilot error.

Pilot education and training is even more critical in light of America's post September 11th focus on security. Before September 11th, pilots were instructed to comply with terrorist's demands. Now, pilots may have to resort to extreme aircraft movements to disable terrorists. Such evasive maneuvers could be created with the plane's rudder. Today's recommendations are not intended to discourage pilots from doing what is necessary, but rather to alert them to the consequences of certain rudder movements.

To address any concern among the flying public - - Let me point out once again, we are not aware of any prior events in which rudder movements have resulted in a separation of a vertical stabilizer or rudder. However, under a set of very specific circumstances it could happen - - that is why we have taken the step to immediately issue this safety recommendation. Our purpose is not to create unnecessary concern but to notify pilots that we have learned something that requires their immediate awareness and to ultimately prevent such an event from happening in the first place.

In summary, the NTSB is still examining many issues:

The adequacy of the certification standards for transport category aircraft;

The structural requirements and integrity of the vertical stabilizer and rudder;

The operational status of the rudder system at the time of the accident;

The adequacy of pilot training; and

The possible role of pilot actions in the accident;

NTSB investigators, along with scientists and engineers from NASA, are also studying the composite materials that make-up the vertical stabilizer of the aircraft. As I mentioned, the NTSB shipped Flt. 587's vertical stabilizer to NASA's labs in Langley, Virginia, where samples were taken from several areas of the tail and are currently being examined. In fact, Member George Black, Member Carol Carmody and I will be traveling to NASA's facility this Monday to discuss the latest findings and testing of the composite materials.

I will ask Tom Haueter to provide some of the more technical aspects of the Board's recommendation today, and then we'll take a few questions. We have copies of our letter here in the room, and it will also be available on our web site.