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Testimony before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, regarding fiscal year 2003 budget request
Marion C. Blakey
House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, regarding fiscal year 2003 budget request, Washington, DC

Good morning Chairman Rogers and Members of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to appear before you today on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding our request for appropriations.

It is truly an honor to be at the helm of an agency with such principled goals and a critical mission. During the past six months, I have witnessed the energy, dedication, and skill of the employees at the NTSB, who strive each and every day to protect and advance public safety in all modes of transportation. It is an exceptional group of professionals -- and I am proud to represent them here today.

As Chairman, it is my responsibility to advance the Board's critical mission -- a mission that you are all familiar with. By investigating accidents, issuing safety recommendations, and coordinating assistance to accident victims and their families, we at the Safety Board seek to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens as they travel throughout this country and across the globe.
Our goals, however, cannot be achieved alone. This Subcommittee's help and support make it possible for the NTSB to continue its important work. You have repeatedly supported the Safety Board's appropriation requests, including supplemental funding for the agency's activities following the September 11th tragedies as well as for the EgyptAir and Alaska Airlines wreckage recoveries.

In the aftermath of September 11, over 60 Safety Board employees worked around the clock in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- assisting with aircraft identification, searching for and analyzing flight data and cockpit voice recorders, and working with the air carriers to support the families of the victims. As you would expect, our employees undertook this difficult and disheartening work with their traditional excellence. I want to take this opportunity to publicly commend them for their accomplishments. We also appreciate the fact that Congress quickly granted our modest supplemental request.

Mr. Chairman, before I discuss NTSB activities, I would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of this Subcommittee's staff -- Stephanie Gupta and Rich Efford. I recently met with both of these individuals. I have known Rich a long time and I am coming to know Stephanie and both have well-deserved reputations in the transportation community as dedicated public servants. I especially want to thank Stephanie for her assistance with the EgyptAir $8 million reimbursement.


The most important results of any accident investigation, no matter what mode of transportation, are the safety recommendations. It is clear that adoption of our safety recommendations saves lives.
The Safety Board currently has over 1,300 open safety recommendations, and some of them have been open for a number of years. Approximately half of the recommendations are to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and its modal administrations, with most of the remaining half to the private sector. Because we typically receive progress reports on only about one-third of our open recommendations, we are working with the DOT modal administrations to ensure that we receive at least an annual report. I have also begun to meet with each of the modal agency administrators to discuss which of the open recommendations can and should be accomplished within the next two years.

Finally, I am focusing special attention on our advocacy and outreach activities. This includes working with consumer and industry organizations to garner support for our recommendations. In addition, we are going to step up our efforts to work with the states to implement recommendations we have made to them. I believe these steps will reduce the time it takes -- currently a five-year average -- to implement the improvements that we see as necessary for the safety of the traveling public.


The NTSB also continues to believe the Most Wanted list is one of the best ways to highlight issues that have the greatest potential to save lives. The Most Wanted contains the following 12 issues:

  • Child Occupant Protection
  • Airframe Structural Icing
  • Commercial Truck and Bus Safety
  • Positive Train Control Systems
  • Excavation Damage Prevention to Underground Facilities
  • Highway Vehicle Occupant Protection
  • Explosive Mixtures in Fuel Tanks on Transport Category Aircraft
  • Automatic Information Recording Devices
  • Airport Runway Incursions
  • Recreational Boating Safety
  • Human Fatigue in Transportation Operations
  • Youth Highway Safety

Time will not permit a discussion of all of our Most Wanted list items, but I would like to discuss three that are particularly urgent. The first is the worldwide issue of runway incursion prevention.

Runway incursion prevention has been on the Most Wanted list since its inception in 1990. The continued growth of commercial aviation and the general aviation fleet increasingly strains the U.S. aviation system infrastructure. This growth is challenging the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic control system, and requires additional oversight and vigilance to ensure the safety of the system. As a result, dangerous incursions onto runways continue to occur at our nation's airports and around the world. We can all recite the statistics - 583 fatalities in Tenerife, Canary Islands; 34 fatalities in Los Angeles, California; 8 fatalities in Detroit, Michigan; 14 fatalities in Quincy, Illinois; 118 fatalities in Milan, Italy. Last year's Italian runway collision was that country's worst air disaster.

More needs to be done to prevent runway incursions before another catastrophic accident occurs. Therefore, the NTSB has recommended that the FAA adopt some operational measures to provide for safer control of aircraft on the ground, and a system that will alert both controllers and pilots in the cockpit of potential incursions.

Mr. Chairman, two of the Most Wanted issues, child occupant protection and commercial truck and bus safety, were added in May 2001. As you will note below, these two issues impact millions of people, and the adoption of the Board's recommendations could save countless lives.

Child Occupant Protection -- Too many children die each year in motor vehicle crashes -- the leading cause of death for children. In the decade of the 1990s, over 90,000 children died in motor vehicle crashes and over 9 million were injured. More needs to be done to protect America's youngest citizens. Therefore, the NTSB has recommended that the states, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the FAA, the automobile industry, and the child restraint industry take the following actions:

  • Require booster seats for children ages 4 - 8;
  • Make vehicle back seats more child friendly;
  • Establish fitting stations in communities;
  • Require restraints for infants and small children on airplanes; and
  • Require personal flotation devices for children.

While strides have been made by government and industry to address these issues -- with some notable successes in education fitting stations and personal flotation devices -- a continued and concerted long-term effort by all parties is necessary to better protect children.

Commercial Truck and Bus Safety -- Each year, more than six million crashes occur on our nation's highways resulting in the deaths of over 41,000 people. Over 5,000 of those fatalities are the result of heavy truck or bus crashes. The Safety Board has asked the DOT, NHTSA, and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to take the following actions:

  • Modify commercial carrier rating standards;
  • Enhance occupant safety;
  • Modify hours-of-service regulations; and
  • Increase vehicle standards.

We believe acceptance of these recommendations will assist the DOT to accomplish its goal of reducing truck-related fatalities by 50 percent by 2009.

The Board will again review its Most Wanted list in a Board meeting to be held in May, and we will keep the Subcommittee advised of any changes the Board may make.


The NTSB has for many years provided training for its investigators and other transportation accident investigators from around the world. We are also providing training for other U.S. and international government agencies and industry representatives on how to comply with the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act.

As you may recall, in 1999, the Rand Corporation issued a report that strongly recommended the Safety Board devote more resources and staff to keep its investigators on the cutting edge of investigative technology and performance. In January 2001, the Safety Board established the NTSB Academy, a major training initiative to increase the knowledge and skill of our investigators and accident investigators from around the world. With our increasingly global transportation systems, we have an obligation to our citizens, as well as those abroad, to help ensure that the same high standards and effective techniques are employed no matter where transportation disasters occur around the world. Our academy also offers the opportunity to train first responders to take appropriate actions so that subsequent investigations can proceed smoothly and properly. And, we are receiving more and more requests from industry, state government and government agencies abroad for training on the appropriate actions to take to assist the victims of transportation disasters and their families.
The Academy will also house the reconstruction of the TWA flight 800 accident aircraft and will provide state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratory spaces for accident investigation, a simulations court, meeting rooms, student and teacher work areas, and offices. A 20-year lease agreement with The George Washington University to build a 72,000 square-foot training academy in Loudoun County, Virginia, was signed and construction began in December 2001. The Academy is expected to open in the fall of 2003, and we are looking forward to the opportunities it will provide to advance transportation safety worldwide.


As you know, the NTSB investigates every accident involving civil aircraft, accidents involving both military and civil aircraft, and accidents involving public aircraft other than aircraft operated by the Armed Forces or by the United States intelligence agencies. The Safety Board recently completed investigations of accidents that occurred on June 1, 1999, involving American Airlines flight 1420 in Little Rock, Arkansas and on October 31, 1999, involving EgyptAir flight 990 in the Atlantic Ocean.

As you will recall, American Airlines flight 1420 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Dallas, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. Tower personnel reported that there were thunderstorms in the area at the time of the airplane's approach and landing. After landing, the airplane departed the end of the runway, went down an embankment, and impacted stanchions for the approach lighting system. There were 6 flight crew and 139 passengers on board, and the accident resulted in 11 fatalities.

The Board determined that the causes of the accident were the flight crew's failure to discontinue the approach when severe thunderstorms and their associated hazards to flight operations had moved into the airport area, and the flight crew's failure to ensure that the spoilers had extended after touchdown. As a result of the investigation, the Safety Board issued safety recommendations that addressed the following issues: flight crew performance, flight crew decision-making regarding operations in adverse weather, pilot fatigue, weather information dissemination, emergency response, frangibility of airport structures, and FAA oversight.

The Board also completed its investigation of EgyptAir flight 990, which crashed en route from John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York to Cairo, Egypt. On October 31, 1999, shortly after takeoff, the airplane was in level flight when it suddenly descended, started to climb back up, descended again and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. All 217 people aboard were killed, including 101 Americans. The NTSB determined that the crash was caused by the flight control inputs of EgyptAir's relief first officer. The reason for his actions was not determined.

For over two years, the NTSB worked diligently to uncover the facts of this tragedy and each potential cause of the crash was thoroughly analyzed. Throughout each step of the investigation, the NTSB followed its well-established, strict investigative process. The report's analysis and conclusions were firmly supported by the physical evidence and recorded data. Because no safety issues associated with the aircraft or operational procedures were discovered, the NTSB issued no safety recommendations in its final report.

Mr. Chairman, the investigation of this accident would not have been possible without the supplemental appropriations provided by your Subcommittee for the search and recovery effort. We appreciate your support.

On-going NTSB major aviation investigations include crashes involving: Alaska Airlines flight 261 near Port Hueneme, California; Emery Worldwide Airlines flight 17 in Rancho Cordova, California; Southwest Airlines flight 1455 in Burbank, California; and American Airlines flight 587 in Belle Harbor, New York.

Much of the Board's aviation resources are focused on the accidents involving Alaska Airlines flight 261 and American Airlines flight 587. As you will recall, Alaska Airlines flight 261 crashed in the Pacific Ocean on January 31, 2000, resulting in 88 fatalities. The NTSB's investigation of this accident raised concerns regarding design and certification procedure, industry maintenance practices associated with the MD-80's horizontal stabilizer trim system and potential adverse effects caused by the use of inappropriate greases or mixtures of incompatible greases. As a result of issues raised by the NTSB, the FAA ordered inspections of the stabilizer control mechanisms of over 1,000 aircraft and held a forum to address grease and lubrication issues. The FAA is also working with the manufacturer to revise inspection procedures. We expect to complete this investigation before the end of the year.

American Airlines flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor, New York, on November 12, 2001, resulting in 265 fatalities, including five individuals on the ground. The NTSB's investigation has a number of different areas of inquiry, but one aspect has raised questions regarding pilot training programs. Many airline programs do not include information about the structural certification requirements for the rudder and vertical stabilizer on transport-category airplanes. The NTSB issued a recommendation requesting that the FAA require the manufacturers and operators of transport-category airplanes to establish and implement pilot training programs that address specific issues of pilot rudder inputs we identified in our recommendation letter and to review all existing and proposed guidance and training currently provided. Although we have yet to receive a formal response, FAA personnel have advised the Board that they agree with the recommendation, and we look forward to hearing more from them in the near future.


Because of limited resources, the Safety Board selectively investigates highway accidents, choosing those that are likely to have a significant impact on the public's confidence in highway transportation safety and those that will highlight national safety issues. For example, the Safety Board recently completed its investigation of the motorcoach accident that occurred on May 9, 1999, in New Orleans, Louisiana. A bus carrying 43 passengers en route from La Place, Louisiana, to a casino in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, crashed near New Orleans, Louisiana, killing 22 people. The Safety Board determined that the driver's incapacitation due to his severe medical conditions and the failure of the medical certification process to detect and remove the driver from service caused the accident. Fatigue and the bus driver's use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine were also factors in the crash.

As a result of the investigation, the Safety Board issued safety recommendations that addressed the following issues: inadequacy of the medical certification process, including the current Federal regulations; absence of a mechanism for identifying drivers who have tested positive for drugs; and the lack of Federal regulations or standards regarding passive and active occupant protection systems on large buses sold or operated in the United States.

Just this past weekend, the Board launched a team to Memphis, Tennessee to investigate an accident involving a 15-passenger van transporting children to day care. The van departed the roadway and slammed into a concrete overpass, killing the driver and four children. Two other children remain in serious condition. From our initial investigation, we have learned that the driver did not have a commercial driver's license and had a prior criminal record for marijuana use. In addition, two grams of marijuana were found on the driver's body at the scene of the accident. Moreover, one of the children killed -- a six-year-old girl -- was riding in the front passenger seat. Among many issues, the Board is looking at whether the children were properly restrained (if at all), the driver's license classification, and the handling characteristics and safety features of the fifteen-passenger van.

Other major highway accidents currently under investigation are four school or commercial bus accidents, another 15-passenger van accident, a grade crossing accident, and an accident that occurred on the Washington Beltway on February 1, 2002, when the driver of an SUV lost control of the vehicle in windy weather while apparently talking on a cell phone.

You may recall that the Washington Beltway accident occurred when the driver of an SUV lost control of the vehicle, crossed the center median and guard rail, and collided head-on with a mini-van, which was subsequently struck in the rear by another SUV. The accident resulted in five fatalities. The driver of the first SUV had purchased the vehicle only two hours before the accident.

And, the Board's reports don't have to be filed before action can occur. A number of safety improvements are triggered as an immediate result of the investigation itself. Such an accomplishment occurred following an accident that occurred in October 2000, when a Freightliner dump truck lost primary braking capability near Lincoln, Nebraska, killing two people. Our investigation revealed that a brake pin had fractured, rendering the service brakes inoperative. Without the issuance of a safety recommendation and working closely with the NTSB, Freightliner, in November 2000, voluntarily recalled approximately 133,000 trucks to replace the defective brake pedal push rods.

The Safety Board is also continuing a high level of activity with the states on a number of important highway safety issues, including graduated driver licensing, impaired driving, and school bus safety.


The NTSB investigates major marine casualties occurring on the navigable waters or territorial seas of the United States, or involving a vessel of the United States, under regulations agreed to by the Board and the DOT. In the last year, the Safety Board completed the following accident investigations: the July 20, 1998 fire on board the Liberian passenger ship Ecstasy in Miami, Florida; the May 23, 2000 fire on board the Netherlands-registered passenger ship Nieuw Amsterdam in Glacier Bay, Alaska; the June 6, 2000 fire on board the U.S. passenger ferry Columbia near Juneau, Alaska; and the May 1, 1999 sinking of the amphibious passenger vehicle Miss Majestic in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Fire on board passenger vessels has been of concern to the Safety Board for many years. As noted, the Ecstasy is just one of several fire-involved accident investigations recently completed. The fire occurred when unauthorized welding by crewmembers in the main laundry ignited a large accumulation of lint in the ventilation system. The NTSB has repeatedly urged the cruise ship industry to install smoke alarms that sound where the smoke is detected and not just in a remotely located control room. Over the last year, we received commitments from seven cruise lines to comply fully with our recommendations.

As a result of their actions, improved shipboard fire safety will be available for more than three million passengers and more than a million crewmen annually.

The accident investigation involving the Miss Majestic was completed just last week. You will recall that 13 people, including 3 children, lost their lives when the Miss Majestic sank in Lake Hamilton. The vessel was an amphibious commercial passenger vehicle originally designed for short-term use in World War II for landing of troops and supplies. The investigation posed a number of unusual challenges, but the Board ultimately determined that the vehicle sank because the company failed to adequately repair and maintain the vehicle. The Board also determined that a flaw in the design of the vehicle when it was converted from military to passenger service and a lack of adequate oversight by the Coast Guard contributed to the unsafe condition of the Miss Majestic. Contributing to the high loss of life was a continuous canopy roof that trapped passengers when the vehicle sank. Included in the report are two additional brief reports of amphibious passenger vehicle accidents that occurred since the Miss Majestic sinking, which the Board determined shared similarities that could be addressed by making these vehicles remain afloat when flooded.

On-going marine investigations include the following: a fire aboard the passenger ferry Port Imperial Manhattan in New York, New York; the collision of the U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville with the Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; the fire aboard the passenger ferry Seastreak in New York, New York; and the collision of a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat with the small passenger vessel Bayside Blaster in Miami, Florida.

The on-going marine accident you may be most familiar with is the collision of the U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville with the Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Greeneville surfaced under the fishing vessel, resulting in the loss of 9 people. The Safety Board's investigative work has included a review of the navigation and sensor information available to the submarine crew, the means by which data was exchanged and assimilated by the navigation team and a review of the operating procedures and policies of the submarine crew relating to navigation safety. The Board is also preparing a simulation of the accident based on recorded electronic data.


The NTSB investigates pipeline accidents in which there is a fatality, substantial property damage, or significant injury to the environment. Selected areas of emphasis include accidents involving aging pipeline infrastructure failures, government pipeline safety regulatory programs or industry practice inadequacies, accidents involving recognition or response delays, and environmental damage following the release of a significant amount of product that threatens water supplies. The NTSB recently completed the investigation of the July 7, 1998 natural gas explosion and fire in Loudoun County, Virginia that resulted in one fatality.

Excavation damage was an issue in that accident. Work performed either during installation of the gas service line or during subsequent excavation of the electrical line, or both, damaged the protective insulation for the triplex electrical conductors and splices in the area of the hole in the gas service line. Although excavation damage remains on the Board's "Most Wanted" list of safety issues, we are encouraged by research undertaken by the Office of Pipeline Safety to improve pipeline location technologies, to improve inspection technologies to find pipe defects, to monitor for mechanical damage and leaks in real time, to improve technologies to avoid damage to underground facilities and to increase the security of pipelines. We are hopeful that this on-going research, which addresses many Safety Board recommendations, will lead to increased safety in excavations.

On-going pipeline investigations include the following: the June 10, 1999 accident involving Olympic Pipeline Company in Bellingham, Washington; the April 7, 2000 accident involving Potomac Electric Power Company in Chalk Point, Maryland; and the August 19, 2000 accident involving El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline Company near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Pipeline integrity is an issue being looked at as a result of both the Bellingham, Washington, and Carlsbad, New Mexico accidents. In Bellingham, a 16-inch diameter pipeline ruptured, and gasoline leaked into creeks in a park. The gasoline ignited, resulting in a fireball that traveled approximately 1 ½ miles downstream from the pipeline failure location. Two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old young man lost their lives as a result of this accident.

In the Carlsbad, New Mexico accident, a natural gas pipeline ruptured, resulting in an explosion and fire. Twelve members of an extended family who were camping near the pipeline died as a result of the accident.

The continued operation of pipelines with discoverable integrity problems has been a recurring issue in Safety Board investigations and numerous safety recommendations have been issued to address our concerns.

We are encouraged that the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) recently published final rules that will require integrity assessments for liquid pipelines in high consequence areas, and will require operators to assess the integrity of pipelines using in-line inspection tools, pressure tests, or other technologies that will provide equivalent results. Rules requiring integrity assessments for natural gas transmission pipelines are now being drafted by RSPA.


The NTSB investigates railroad accidents in which there is a fatality or substantial property damage, or that involve a passenger train. There are over 6,500 railroad accidents and incidents reported annually. Because of limited resources, the Safety Board investigates fewer than 25 accidents a year. Major railroad investigations recently completed by the Board include the following:

  • January 17, 1999 collision of three Conrail freight trains near Bryan, Ohio;
  • March 15, 1999 grade crossing accident involving an Amtrak train and a truck tractor-semitrailer at Bourbonnais, Illinois;
  • September 26, 1999 Amtrak grade crossing accident in McLean, Illinois;
  • May 27, 2000 derailment of a Union Pacific train in Eunice, Louisiana;
  • January 30, 2000 derailment of a CSX Transportation coal train at Bloomington, Maryland; the February 13 and August 15, 2000 accidents involving Maryland Transit Administration light rail vehicles at BWI International Airport, Maryland; and
  • February 5, 2001 rear-end collision of an Amtrak train with a CSXT freight train at Syracuse, New York.

Two of the completed investigations dealt with issues on the Board's Most Wanted list. The January 17, 1999 Bryan, Ohio accident occurred when three Conrail freight trains operating in fog on a double main track were involved in a collision. It was determined that a positive train control (PTC) system would have prevented the accident. Without the installation of PTC systems, preventable collision accidents will continue to occur and will continue to place railroad employees and the public at risk.
We are encouraged that PTC systems have been developed and are being tested. For example, Amtrak employed a 118-mile PTC system along the high-density Northeast corridor between New Haven, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts. Amtrak has installed another 76 miles of PTC on a Michigan line. Additional projects include an advanced speed enforcement system with PTC capabilities, which is planned for installation on 540 track miles owned by New Jersey Transit. In addition, a PTC system is being designed, tested, built, and installed on a 123-mile section of the high-speed Chicago-St. Louis Corridor by the Association of American Railroads in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The March 15, 1999 Bourbonnais, Illinois grade crossing accident is among recent railroad investigations completed by the Board. As you will recall, 11 people died when an Amtrak train struck the loaded trailer of a tractor-semitrailer combination that was traversing a grade crossing. It was determined that fatigue, a "Most Wanted" issue, played a role in the truck driver's inappropriate response to the grade crossing warning devices.

Human fatigue in transportation operations is one of the most widespread safety issues in the transportation industry. The Bourbonnais, Illinois accident is just one example of fatigue leading to an accident. Therefore, the NTSB has recommended that the Federal government and the transportation industry study the relationship between fatigue and accidents within each transportation mode and update each industry's applicable regulations.


The Safety Board is requesting $73.8 million and 432 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for fiscal year 2003. This represents an apparent increase of $5.8 million over the enacted level for fiscal year 2002. However, the fiscal year 2003 figure includes $3.4 million for employee pension and benefit costs that were covered by the Office of Personnel Management funds in fiscal year 2002. The real increase is $2.48 million, or 3.6%, over fiscal year 2002. The budget request also assumes a pay raise of 2.6 percent, and includes $390,000 of additional monies required for the Academy.

We believe that the efforts of the Safety Board provide a unique and substantial benefit to the American people with a minimum financial outlay. Our goal is to ensure that the Safety Board's vital transportation safety programs are provided adequate staff and funding and are being managed in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Your continued support of the Board will help us achieve that goal and the fulfillment of our public safety mission.

That completes my testimony, and I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.