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Speeches

HAI Heli Expo Safety Symposium “Safety and the Bottom Line”, Louisville, KY
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Louisville, KY
2/29/2016

​Good morning!  It is an honor to be here with all of you today at this Safety Symposium and meet all of you who know so much about helicopter safety.   Thank you to the FAA and the US Helicopter Safety Team for inviting me.  It is also inspiring to hear from owner-operators like DP who have a real commitment to safety in their business – and I would like to meet DP soon!

I love helicopters but, unlike all of you, I am no helicopter expert.  My training is in injury prevention, public health, and safety with a focus on transportation.  But I am lucky that at the NTSB, where I have been for almost a year now, I get to meet people like you and I get to work every day with knowledgeable and respected experts in helicopter safety.  I know you know many of these good people at the NTSB - people like Jim Silliman who was the Investigator in Charge at my first aviation accident Go Team launch.  Or Van McKenny, Jeff Kennedy, Chihoon Shin, Ralph Hicks, or Clint Johnson.  We also have Amy Terrone and Stephanie Shaw from our Safety Advocacy Office and John Brown from my office here this week.

So while I don’t need to tell you about the NTSB, I would like to tell you that I have great admiration and respect for the training and skill that you have to have to fly a helicopter and, equally important, the training and skill you have to have in ensuring that those who fly or are passengers in your helicopters are as safe as possible.  And, as you know, at the NTSB, our sole mission to save lives and prevent injuries, so we very much appreciate your help in making transportation safer.

This safety symposium is entitled “Safety and the Bottom Line” and you have just heard some presentations about why a focus on safety can save both lives and save money.  I grew up on the Gulf Coast, in Galveston, Texas, where the deepest oil platform in the world is located 200 miles out to sea, with a helipad that accommodates 2 Sikorsky S-92s, so I know that helicopters are vital to the economic well-being of our communities.  I also know that safety improvements for helicopters can also be expensive, such as retrofitting fuel tanks or installing crash resistant flight recorder systems or comprehensive risk assessment programs and improving safety culture.  But I don’t need to tell you about NTSB’s recommendations in these areas are an investment in safety.  And that is why I am impressed when I hear about the voluntary investment that so many of you have made in safety for your companies you’re your organizations – an investment that you continue to make every day.  That safety directors are now considered assets to a company, rather than just a requirement or an extra cost, means that helicopter safety will continue to get better and better and that fewer and fewer people will die or get injured every year.  And that is thanks to your commitment, your investment in safety.

Helicopters are also key to a functioning economy because helicopters are vital to our transportation system - they often go where no other vehicle can go or they get there much faster during times when minutes are the difference between life and death.  Many years ago, I worked in the Texas Medical Center and I have 3 older brothers who are all surgeons, so I understand that helicopters can be literal lifesavers for those who have been injured and are far from medical care.  My second oldest brother, working in the ER, sometimes would be flown to pick up injured patients who had been in traffic accidents that occurred far from his Level 1 Trauma Center.  He has told me about the incredible skill of the HEMS pilots he accompanied – especially when it came to landing in unfamiliar areas.  HEMS safety and the safety of all public helicopters has been and continues to be important to the NTSB.

That is why I feel privileged to be with you here today and to help support your efforts - in any way I can - to improve helicopter safety.  I also want to assure you that while helicopters are not a standalone item in the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Improvements this year, helicopter safety remains a priority for us and in fact, is a key part of many of our top 10 safety advocacy areas, such as Occupant Protection, Fatigue, Recorders, Distraction, and Impairment.  This is my first Heli Expo so I am here to learn – to learn from you and to learn about you.  I hope you won’t hesitate to come talk with me, or any of my Aviation Safety or Safety Advocacy colleagues who are here at Heli Expo this week, so I can learn more about what you are doing and what safety issues are important to you.  Please visit our booth and come listen to our NTSB team who will be presenting at the Safety Directors Forum this morning and at the Autorotations session tomorrow afternoon.  And, most importantly, please help make our safety recommendations a reality.

I will stop here because you have an excellent panel coming up, but I thank all of you who are here today at this safety symposium.  I thank you for your commitment to safety and your work to ensure that safety is a part of good business.  I thank you for your continued investment in safety.   I look forward to meeting you and learning from you this week!