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Opening remarks before the General Aviation Air Safety Investigators (GAASI) 2006 Advanced Technical Workshop, Wichita, KS
Mark V. Rosenker
General Aviation Air Safety Investigators (GAASI) 2006 Advanced Technical Workshop, Wichita, KS

Thank you very much for that gracious introduction. It is truly a pleasure and privilege to be given the pulpit at this year’s General Aviation Air Safety Investigators Advanced Technical Workshop.

Since its inception 11 years ago, this workshop has proven to be the premier event for General Aviaiton, or "GA", accident investigation. And now, with the largest attendance ever, this workshop represents a critical element of the Safety Board's mission…to share the knowledge gained from our investigations to prevent similar accidents from occurring again.

Your participation during the next two days will help save lives, and saving lives is the bottom line of our profession.

NTSB accident statistics for 2005 show that, while the number of persons killed in ALL aviation accidents, including the airlines, dropped to 616 from 652 from the previous year, fatalities in GA accidents ticked up slightly from 558 to 562. There is still work to be done. We at the Board have always realized that no one organization can do this work alone, and that aviation safety has always been, and must always be, a team effort between the Board, FAA, and manufacturers. Today, I am proud to stand among the best and brightest of representatives of all these organizations.

The airlines may get all of the attention nowadays, but one need only read a recently released independent study, commissioned by GAMA and co-authored by some of the country’s most knowledgeable transportation economists, to learn that GA is an economic force to be reckoned with. The study revealed that in 2005, GA contributed more than $150 billion dollars…that’s BILLION with a “B”…. to U.S. economic output, and employed more than one and a quarter MILLION people. And 2006 brought with it record-breaking shipment and billing figures. In the first half of 2006, shipments of GA airplanes totaled 1,843 aircraft, a 19 percent increase over the same period last year, to a tune of 8.8 billion dollars. This is the highest recorded billing for the first half of a year in general aviation’s history, and it appears that this trend will continue throughout the remainder of 2006, with the healthiest increase occurring in the business jet market with a 28 percent increase in shipments, or 415 jets ! I suspect that the fact that you can’t carry toothpaste or shaving cream onto a commercial airliner is helping the biz jet market a bit !

Clearly, your industry is an important part of this nation's economy, and I am here today to reiterate the Safety Board's commitment to making a safe industry even safer.

This past January, with the help of Pete Bunce and Brian Riley, I had the opportunity to visit with some of you here in Wichita. At Cessna, I learned that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cessna C-172 and C-182 airplanes, and that the Mustang jet recently received it’s FAA type certification.  At Raytheon, I learned that there are about 35,000 Beech airplanes still flying out there; several thousand of them are the venerable King Airs. At Learjet, I learned that the company delivered 70 jets last year, and they will be putting on yet another popular Learjet Safety Standown, next week, right in this hotel, in which hundreds of corporate pilots will to learn more about the "Global War on Error".

These visits are only the beginning for me. While I am in town, I plan on visiting Cessna’s piston and Mustang production lines in Independence, Kansas, today, and the single-engine G36 Bonanza operations at Raytheon here in Wichita tomorrow. This Fall, I’m traveling to Vero Beach, Florida, to visit The New Piper Aircraft Company, and I plan on visiting other GA airframe and engine manufacturers during the months ahead. I am convinced GA is very much alive and well, and today I want to reiterate my commitment to enhancing the Board's interaction and relationship with this very important mode of transportation.

But there are challenges ahead. From my perspective, we need to continue to elevate GA safety in public and political eyes, while operating within increasingly tight budgets. We are doing this by realigning our priorities, conserving our efforts on accidents that have no safety payback, and ramping up efforts to highlighting significant accidents and safety issues. We’ve already seen the fruits of this realignment over the past few months through an increase in the number of Special Investigation Reports, Safety Recommendations, and Board Meetings that address GA issues.

For example, this past January, the Safety Board adopted a Special Investigation Report on emergency medical services (EMS) Aviation Flight Operations that was brought before us by regional investigators. In May, we highlighted the hazards of taking off with contaminated wings during a Board Meeting regarding a Challenger jet crash in Montrose, Colorado.  And NTSB regional investigators recently traveled overseas to investigate two Cessna 208B in-flight icing events. In all of the activities that I have just mentioned, NTSB regional investigators, with the technical assistance of people like you, brought numerous recommendations before the Board to prevent accidents.

There are still other fertile areas for GA safety that our regional investigators have their eyes on. These include:

  • Air Tour Helicopter Operations
  • Human Factors involving Glass Cockpits
  • The Use of Airbags in GA aircraft
  • The Aging of GA Aircraft Structures
  • Light Sport Aircraft Certification and Operation, and
  • The expanding industry of Very Light Jets

These areas are going to require investigators that are up to speed on the latest technological advances in aircraft design, such as composite material applications, and also on the latest tools available to adequately investigate such accidents, such as non-volatile memory extraction. I am committed to ensuring that our investigators receive advanced training and familiarization on these new technologies, which is why we have more Safety Board investigators at this GAASI Workshop than we have ever had. I'm pleased to see that the workshop's agenda includes presentations on these subjects. These briefings will help investigators develop an  important skill - knowing the right questions to ask and who to ask.

I know that Jeff Guzzetti, our Deputy Director for Regional Operations, gave you a more detailed briefing earlier this morning on the streamlining of the Safety Board's regional operations to better meet GA safety needs. I have a saying that I impart on the senior management of the NTSB, and it goes like this: “If you do your job well, then you get to keep your job.“ I mention this because I have impressed upon Mr. Guzzetti that he SHALL ensure that general aviation accident investigations are conducted properly, and that regional operations are managed effectively. I am pleased to report today that Mr. Guzzetti still has a job, and I am confident that he will continue to keep it !

As many of you know, most federal agencies are currently operating under the light of dwindling resources. The Safety Board is no exception. Our cadre of 43 regional investigators simply cannot travel on every fatal and serious injury accident, and we must rely on some of the 3,200 FAA inspectors to assist us.  I express my thanks to the FAA for assisting us.  Without their help, we simply could not do our job.  By conserving our precious time traveling to and from the sites of accidents in which there is no obvious safety payback, we are able to reduce our backlog, produce more timely reports, conduct more thorough investigations on the accidents that have safety issues, and develop more GA accident reports, special investigations, and recommendations.

I know that the decrease of our presence on fatal GA accident sites over the past three years has raised some concerns among you. However, now that we have eliminated most of the accident backlog, coupled with a recent drop in the numbers of accidents this past year, I foresee our regional investigators increasing the percentage of fatal accidents that they launch on over the next few months and years, while still continuing their efforts to highlight significant accidents and safety issues.

This past February, I addressed the leaders of GAMA’s member companies at their annual Executive Board Meeting in Washington DC. During that meeting, I cited several suggested actions to enhance the process to improve safety. I am pleased to report that all of these suggestions have been implemented.

For example, I stated that I will hold the line on any reduction in the numbers of Safety Board investigators in our regional offices. I’ve kept that commitment, and, as a matter of fact, I authorized a recent job announcement for two additional regional investigators. And if the Senate approves the increase in our Fiscal Year 2007 budget of $2 million that the House has already approved, it is my intention to use that money to hire eleven additional investigators for the agency. Not all of these additional positions will go to Aviation, because our agency is also involved with accident investigation in the modes of Highway, Marine, Rail, and Pipeline.  However, the majority would go to Aviation.

Another suggestion that I cited was to “Increase the frequency of communications between the NTSB and our partners in industry.” Mr. Guzzetti has seen to this by hosting monthly telecons between NTSB managers and GA manufacturers. He sends me the minutes to these meetings, and it seems that my suggestion was a good one.

Another suggestion included improving the coordination procedures between Safety Board investigators, the FAA, and manufacturer representatives in the initial notification phase of serious and fatal aircraft accidents. I’m told that this is being done. If it’s not, I would like to know about it.

I also suggested increasing the participation by the Safety Board, and its staff investigators, in GA events such as this one, the Learjet Safety Standown, and Oshkosh. Our regional investigators and Board Members need to be up to speed on what’s happening in the industry, and I will assure that they are well attended by our staff.

As long as I am leading this agency, I am committed to making these things happen. I have instructed Mr. Guzzetti to work closely with GAMA and its members to aggressively pursue these initiatives. But he can't do it alone.... he and I need your help. We are partners in this effort, and I look forward to working with you during the next two years of my Chairmanship on making our safe skies even safer.

Finally, let me leave you with the thought that I mentioned at the beginning of these remarks: As a team, and given our noble mission of accident prevention, I believe that what you take away from the next two days of this workshop will help save lives. You may not meet those people whose lives you saved, or even know where they are…but you will have prevented their deaths or injury by participating in this event.

Good luck, good learning, and thank you for inviting me to be with you today.