Thank you very much for that gracious introduction. It is truly a pleasure and privilege to be given the chance to kick off this year's GAMA Executive Board Meeting.
I don't have to preach to this crowd that a safe and efficient aviation transportation network is essential for the commercial viability, economic health, and security of the nation...not to mention the sheer fun of flying. According to GAMA's own statistics, General Aviation (GA) directly contributes more than $41 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Over 200,000 aircraft, ranging from two-seat trainers to intercontinental business jets, fly nearly twice the airlines' flight hours, and carry 166 million passengers annually.
The companies that you lead combine to make a formidable force in transportation and the economy. According to the Teal Group Annual Forecast, a total of 7,400 advanced business jet aircraft, valued at $107 billion, will be produced between now and 2014. Fractional ownership is growing and will account for 40% of the 7,400 jets, and about 1,300 of the aircraft will be "Very Light Jets" or VLJs.
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.
I am so very pleased to see that the number one item on GAMA's overall agenda is to "Increase the GA Margin of Safety." You state, and I quote: "that continuing to reduce the world-wide number of general aviation airplane accidents - no matter the cause - is GAMA's highest priority." That makes all of you full partners with the NTSB in the quest for safer skies.
Last month, with the help of Pete Bunce and Brian Riley, I had the opportunity to visit with some of you in Wichita. At Raytheon, I learned from Jim Shuster that there are still about 35,000 Beech airplanes still flying out there, several thousand of them are the venerable King Airs. I walked the T-6 Texan and Premier One Business Jet production line. At Learjet, Mike Kanaely informed me that his company delivered 70 Learjets this past year, and they put on yet another extremely successful and very popular Safety Standown in which hundreds of biz jet pilots learned about the "Global War on Error". At Cessna, I learned that 4,500 Citation business jets have been built since 1972, and that 823 single engine airplanes were built in the past year alone. Over the next several months, I will be visiting The New Piper Aircraft Company, Cirrus, Gulfstream and several of the GA engine manufacturers. I am convinced GA is very much alive and well, and I want you to know that I am absolutely committed to enhancing the Board's interaction and relationship with this very important mode of transportation.
I can assure you that the Board has its eye on the GA ball. Late last year, the Board adopted a safety study that examined the risk factors associated with GA flights into conditions of bad weather and poor visibility. As you know, weather-related accidents are a leading cause of aviation fatalities and the Safety Board has long been concerned with the disproportionate number of fatal accidents associated with weather. While only 6% of GA accidents are weather-related, they account for more than 25% fatalities that occur in GA annually.
As a result of the study (which I have here in my hand), the Safety Board called on the FAA to ensure that pilots have a minimum level of proficiency to recognize and respond to weather hazards. We also asked the FAA to identify and provide additional support for pilots whose performance indicates increased risk, and to improve its pre-flight weather services.
Another recent study, this one conducted by our regional investigators involves emergency medical services (EMS) flight operations, or EMS. EMS flights in GA aircraft provide a vital service to the public by transporting critically ill patients to emergency care facilities during all hours of the day and night, often in poor weather conditions and at low altitudes in uncontrolled airspace. From January 2002 to January 2005, 55 EMS aircraft accidents occurred in the US, resulting in 54 fatalities. These recent accidents, averaging about 20 per year, warrant renewed concern. As a result, the Safety Board made recommendations to the FAA in the following areas:
- Requirements for EMS operations conducted without patients onboard,
- Risk management programs for EMS operations,
- Flight dispatch procedures, and
- The use of technology to assist in flight operations, such as terrain avoidance warning systems (TAWS) and night vision goggles (NVG).
We believe there are still other fertile areas for GA safety that our regional investigators have their eyes on. These include:
- Air Tour Helicopter Operations
- General Aviation Survival Factors
- Aging Aircraft Concerns in GA Aircraft Structures
- Offshore Petroleum Helicopter Operations
- Light Sport Aircraft Certification and Operation
- Aircraft certification as it pertains to icing
These areas are going to require regional investigators that are up to speed on the latest technological advances in aircraft design, and also on the latest tools available to adequately investigate such accidents. I am committed to ensuring that our investigators receive advanced training and familiarization on these new technologies.
I am very proud of the hard work of our air safety investigators in our ten regional offices. Regional investigators are the eyes and ears of aviation across the United States, and they account for 16% of the Board staff. They become immediately aware of significant safety issues that manifest themselves in incidents and accidents. They are hardworking, dedicated professionals who pride themselves on their work.
However, as many of you know, today most federal agencies are currently operating under the light of dwindling resources. The Safety Board is no exception. While our nation fights a war on terror and rebuilds communities ravaged by natural disaster, our government must tighten its financial belt. As an agency, the NTSB is challenged with maximizing the use of our limited resources as well.
Now I know you have been reading in the press lately about the fact that NTSB regional investigators have been traveling to fewer crash sites. I recognize that this seemingly conflicts with your agenda to ensure, and I quote "a thorough and timely on-site investigation led by the NTSB" for general aviation accidents. While it is true that we do not launch on all fatal and serious injury accidents, I must reiterate that we shall continue to lead an investigation into every single one of the nearly 1,800 general aviation accidents that occur each year in the country. Whether we launch to the scene or not, we will conduct all of the research, interviews, and follow-up examinations necessary to perform an appropriate investigation. We will write the final report, and the NTSB will determine the probable cause of every single accident, no matter how small. This is our mandate, and we are sticking to it.
The NTSB historically has not conducted an on-scene investigation on fatal accidents involving crop-dusters, homebuilts, illegal ultralights, balloons, and gliders. These types of accidents make up about 25% of the fatal accidents each year. It is simply a matter of prioritizing our efforts. Our cadre of 43 regional investigators simply cannot travel on every fatal and serious injury accident, and we must rely on some of the 3,500 FAA inspectors to assist us.
Our numbers indicate that for fatal accidents, we reduced our on-site presence from 75 % to about 62 % over the past 3 years. I assure you that this 13-point drop involved fatal accidents that had known circumstances and no safety payback.
What do we get by conserving these resources?
A significant Backlog Reduction, time for analysis and ultimately important Safety Recommendations...that is what we get.
Five years ago, we had a backlog of about 2,500 cases that were over six months old. That means that six months after the accident, there was no NTSB report or probable cause. As of today, that backlog is now down to about 400 cases, and decreasing fast. Large backlogs of accident investigations lead to faded memories and rushed work back in the office, all leading to a potential drop in quality of the investigation, and the failure to take timely action in order to prevent the next accident. 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 produce.....
- More timely reports
- More thorough investigations on the accidents that have safety issues
- More GA accident reports and special investigations that put a spotlight on safety issues (such as the GA Weather Study and EMS Special Investigation that I have here)
- More safety recommendations that involve general aviation (like these recent ones that I have here)
And for those of you who lead companies that manufacture jet-powered aircraft, I assure you that the Safety Board will always launch to the scene of any corporate jet crash involving fatalities. These types of aircraft accidents simply involve too much complexity, visibility, and potentially significant industrial ramifications for us not
to launch on.
If there is one thing that you should take away from my remarks today, it is this: The General Aviation Industry is too important and visible for the NTSB to short change, and we consider GAMA, and the companies that GAMA represents, as full partners in our quest for safer skies.
So how can we all work together in this regard ? What specifically can we do to foster efforts that will enhance the process to improve safety? I have some suggestions:
- I will hold the line on any reduction in the numbers of Safety Board investigators in our regional offices. We simply can't afford, nor do we intend, to allow our cadre of experienced professional air safety investigators to decrease.
- Establish a clear channel of communication in order to obtain timely feedback from manufacturers who believe that regional investigators are not adequately addressing airworthiness issues and potential safety concerns.
- Increase the frequency of communications between the NTSB and our partners in industry. This can be achieved with more meetings and visits by Safety Board Members and staff investigators with GAMA and its members.
- Improve the coordination procedures between Safety Board investigators, the FAA, and manufacturer representatives in the initial notification phase of serious and fatal aircraft accidents.
- Implement a training program in which our investigators visit your facilities to learn about your products and capabilities.
- Increase the participation by the Safety Board and its staff in GA events such as the Learjet Safety Standown, General Aviation Air Safety Investigation Symposium (or GAASI), and AirVenture in Oshkosh.
As long as I am leading the 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 over the next few months on making our safe skies even safer.