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


Remarks for the American Association of Airport Executives, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Marion C. Blakey
American Association of Airport Executives, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to participate today's conference - - I am delighted to be here. I also want to thank Spencer Dickerson, and everyone who worked so hard to organize - - what I am sure will be - - a successful and productive conference.

In 1809, Thomas Jefferson said, "The care of human life and happiness . . . is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

This responsibility, however, falls on a broad group of shoulders. Indeed, the responsibility for the safety our fellow citizens not only extends to all of us here in public sector, but also to the private sector as well.

As we gather here today, we are fulfilling our responsibilities - - together. The National Transportation Safety Board and the representatives and members participating in this week's conference all share the same objective - - to ensure the safety of our citizens as they travel across the skies. It is the Safety Board's goal to strengthen our collective approach to improve flight safety.

With the oversight, resources and know-how of government - - and the tools, technology, and dedication that many organizations in this room provide - - we can find solutions to address those areas that pose the most significant risks in aviation.

What are those areas? Permit me for a moment to pull out an old chestnut from the days when I focused particularly on automotive and highway safety.

As you many know - - the greatest potential for automobile accidents occurs within 5 miles of home.

The same is true in aviation. The greatest potential for accidents also occurs near home - - your homes . . . the airports. Airplanes are most at risk when they are taxiing, taking off, approaching or landing at airports. Runway incursions, runway overruns, and problems associated with airport firefighting capabilities pose real threats. However, these risks, if addressed properly, also offer the greatest potential to improve flight safety.

And, the problems again are gaining on us. The industry is rebounding faster than many predicted after the tragic events of September 11th.

Before September 11th, the FAA predicted considerable growth in the industry. Between 1995 and 2000, passenger enplanements rose nearly 22 percent -- from 548 million to 666 million. At the nation's 10 busiest airports, on average, aircraft operations had increased by 44 percent in the last 10 years, and were projected to grow by another 27 percent in the next 10 years.

I know everyone in this room has worked very hard to achieve such growth and I believe we are going to find ourselves back in our earlier trajectory. But we all know such growth intensifies important safety concerns.

More planes in the air and on the ground - - increases the chances for runway incursions. There were 383 runway incursions in the United States last year, almost double the 200 that occurred in 1994. Although that's 43 fewer incursions than in 2000, we must remember that air traffic was greatly reduced in the last quarter of the year. Although the aviation community has been diligently working to reduce this safety hazard, the long term trend of the number of incursions continues to go in the wrong direction.

Just last October, in Milan, Italy, 118 people were killed when a Scandinavian Airlines MD-87 collided with a Cessna Citation. The MD-87 had been cleared for take-off, when the Cessna taxied across the active runway.

The Milan crash is just one example - - the problem is complex. There isn't any one solution that will eliminate the problem of runway incursions - - it will take a combination of approaches. Over the years, the Safety Board has issued recommendations for a broad range of actions, including procedural changes, educational 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 will give controllers at the busiest airports valuable information on potential collisions.

Last week I was in the tower at O'Hare watching ATC operations and the AMASS system in operation. It's impressive.
But, although AMASS is a real improvement, there are a number of bugs still being worked out and will not prevent runway incursions in all situations because current AMASS parameters may not provide controllers sufficient time to prevent collisions. Moreover, the system does not directly alert flight crews of potential collisions.

In an effort to improve the AMASS system and reduce runway incursions, the Board - - two years ago - - convened a special Board meeting. During the meeting, the Board issued additional safety recommendations, the most important being that the FAA require that a ground movement safety system provide direct warnings to flight crews that are straying into danger. Such a system gives controllers and pilots the needed time to prevent a collision. The Board also recommended that:

· All runway crossings be authorized only by specific air traffic control clearance;
· Air traffic controllers issue explicit crossing instructions for each runway when crossing multiple runways,
· Departing aircraft be prohibited from holding on active runways at nighttime or any time when ceiling and visibility conditions prevent arriving aircraft from seeing traffic on the runway.

With attention focused on security and other related issues, we know that everyone here has a full plate. Nevertheless, we believe these recommendations are fundamentally important and we need your help and support in implementing them.

At the same time we don't believe in advocating a "one size fits all" solution. We need to continue to look for technological solutions like those the Board has already supported for lower activity airports, including ground loop technology, runway stop-bars, in-pavement lighting, and airport surface sensors using Global Positioning System technology.

This is where our private sector partners come in - - as you have in the past - - finding innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce runway incursions and to ensure that the air traffic environment minimizes human mistakes before they result in accidents.

Runway overruns also pose significant safety risks, which have concerned the Board for some time. And, several recent accidents have underscored our concerns. In June 1999, an American Airlines' McDonnell Douglas MD-82 overran the runway at the Little Rock National Airport in Arkansas, killing the captain and 10 passengers and injuring another 134 passengers and crewmembers.
In that accident report, we examined a number of airport-related issues, including runway safety. The Board recommended that research be conducted to determine if submerged low-impact structures and other nonfrangible structures at airports could be converted to frangible ones.

In March 2000, in Burbank California, a Southwest Airlines B-737, with 142 people on board, ran off the end of a runway, traveled through a blast fence, and came to rest on a highway outside the airport perimeter. The airplane almost crashed into a gas station. The runway did not have a 1,000-foot runway safety area.

There are technologies currently available that could help prevent these accidents. For example, not too long ago, on one of its overrun areas, JFK installed the Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS), which uses a crushable concrete material to slow an overrunning aircraft.

This system works.

As some of you may recall, in February 1984, a Scandinavian Airlines DC-10 ran off the end of a runway at JFK into a tidal waterway, injuring 12 passengers and substantially damaging the airplane. In May 1999, after the system was implemented, an American Eagle Saab 340B ran off the same runway.

This time, however, the plane's wheels sank about 30 inches into the arresting material, bringing the airplane to a stop. No one was injured.

According to a Safety Board performance study, had the EMAS not been there, the airplane could have traveled 500 to 1,000 feet beyond the end of the runway, with similar results as the Scandinavian DC-10. The Board believes that the arresting system should be installed on runways where 1,000-foot safety areas are not feasible. And I might mention just this fall Little Rock installed such a system on their runway where their accident occurred.

Finally, I should point out, we can make major improvements in air travel safety by perfecting aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) guidance and procedures related to evacuations.

In February 2001, the Board adopted a safety report on the survivability of U.S air carrier accidents. The study examined accidents that occurred between 1983 through 2000. It showed that 51,207 passengers survived those crashes - - that's almost 96%. This information is truly significant - - prompt response from airport and ARFF personnel can save lives.

We sent questionnaires to ARFF personnel involved in the evacuations to find out how we could make improvements. They indicated that they needed more hands-on familiarization training to prepare them to assist in airplane evacuations. Many ARFF personnel, especially those at smaller airports, believe that they don't receive adequate training on the airplane types that frequent their airports because aircraft aren't readily available from air carriers.

Based on our report recommendation, the FAA - - with the help of AAAE and others in this room - - is establishing a task force, to address the issue of periodic hands-on aircraft familiarization training for ARFF personnel at all Part 139 certified airports.

For those airports that do not meet Part 139 requirements, the NTSB recommends the FAA enhance the safety of airports served by commuter airlines by including all airports with scheduled passenger service in its Airport Certification Program. The FAA responded with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise the current airport certification regulation to include certification requirements for airports with scheduled service by aircraft with 10 to 30 seats - - however, the final rule has not yet been issued.

By concentrating our collective attention and energy to these issues
now, we can position the industry to meet the demands of increased traffic. And I - - just as much as you - - welcome those increases.

Indeed - - as Jefferson stated - - it is the responsibility of good government to care for the safety and happiness of human life. With your help, however, we will not only fulfill our current responsibilities but - - we will ensure our future aviation industry is the safest in the world.

Thank you.