Work That Matters, People Who Make a Difference

By Debbie Hersman

Dr. Paul Light of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service has defined public service as “work that matters.” Public service makes a difference in peoples’ lives and many people choose to work in government because it matters to them that their work helps other people.

As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on the gifts in our lives as well as things we will let go of as a new year begins. During 2011 we have said farewell to many amazing employees and this week, three dedicated and incredibly capable NTSB employees, who chose to work in government and make a difference, are retiring. Combined, three gentlemen, all veterans, have given 117 years of service to the taxpayers.

Bob Benzon, a Senior Aviation Accident Investigator, started his career as an Air Force pilot, flying combat missions in Vietnam. He joined the NTSB in 1984 as an air safety investigator in the Chicago field office, where he was responsible for 65 regional investigations before moving to Washington where he has led over 30 complex and highly visible major accident investigations, including the crash of American Airlines 587 in New York in November 2001 and “the Miracle on the Hudson” ditching following a bird strike resulting in a double engine failure in January of 2009.

Mr. Benzon practically wrote the NTSB’s major aviation investigation manual and has been a key trainer for other investigators. He was a true ambassador of the NTSB’s important mission throughout the world – participating in foreign investigations in China, Greece, Afghanistan, and has spent much of his life on the road at accident sites. Perhaps the average citizen will never know about Bob’s personal sacrifices during his four decades of public service; but many of the recommendations he helped author have improved the safety of the travelling public.

Bill Love, Deputy General Counsel, joined the NTSB in 1998 after a career in the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Love earned a doctorate and a law degree while serving in the Air Force. He gave the value of his education back many times over as this incredibly talented and dedicated man transitioned to his second career in public service at the NTSB. Dr. Love has served as the Designated Agency Ethics Official since 1999. During that time, Dr. Love interviewed and screened every new NTSB employee to ensure that the no conflicts of interest existed and that the public was served. He was known for his quick wit and his attention to detail. He was a mentor to the people who worked for him and the people that he served. Bill was extremely proud of the work that he did and even though he worked long hours on difficult issues, he said that he always looked forward to the new legal issues that arose in his work. At his farewell party he told us that he was sad that he wouldn’t be coming to work the following Monday – so are we, Dr. Love, so are we.

Bob Trainor, Chief, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Division, joined the NTSB in 1987 after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy and then serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. During several decades at the NTSB he has been involved in numerous investigations in all modes of transportation, including natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline accidents from California to Puerto Rico; rail and highway tank car hazmat releases that have caused scores of fatalities and injuries and the 1996 ValuJet crash and multiple airline cargo fires that involved the transportation of hazardous materials. Bob always put the transportation safety needs of the American people first. His work resulted in many safety recommendations that improved transportation safety. He truly is a national resource on hazardous materials and pipeline safety issues and his depth of institutional knowledge will be missed by all who worked with him.

These are just three of countless dedicated public servants who are doing remarkable work for America. In this era of government shutdowns, pay freezes, federal workforce reductions, perhaps it is worthwhile to talk about the good, and even great role that federal employees play in ensuring the safety of the public – here at the NTSB our employees work hard to do just that.

Today, pilots have better checklists, the operating limitations of aircraft are better understood, and the lives of many airline passengers and crewmembers will be saved as a result of the work of Mr. Benzon, his teammates at the NTSB and other federal agencies. Today railroad tank cars have safer designs, lithium batteries are recognized as a fire risk aboard airplanes and — although most homeowners will never know Mr. Trainor or the federal regulators who advance the NTSB’s recommendations — gas companies are installing safety features to prevent a pipeline in a neighborhood, perhaps your neighborhood, from failing.

These three men served the public with distinction because they believed that their work mattered. We are lucky that they served. I salute them and all NTSB employees for doing work that matters.

New Year’s Resolutions That Can Save Lives

By Debbie Hersman

Each year in the United States, about 35,000 people die in transportation accidents. Yes, roadway fatalities lead the list, with nearly 33,000 fatalities last year. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in our country for those aged 3 to 34; for older Americans, highway fatalities are right there alongside heart disease, cancer, and stroke as a leading killer.

So many of those 35,000 fatalities — each one a tragic loss of a loved one — can be prevented with commonsense safety precautions.  Along with getting a bit more exercise or losing a couple of holiday pounds, what if you could guarantee a longer, healthier life by simply making better choices behind the wheel?  In 2012, do something to improve your odds by adopting a few new habits this year, and to quote Flannery O’Connor :  “The life you save may be your own.”

1    Don’t operate any vehicle while impaired by alcohol or fatigue.

2    Stop, look, and listen at railroad crossings.
Safety Checklist

3    Buckle up for safety … all passengers, all the
      time.

4    Make sure child safety seats are properly
      installed.

5    Put away the phone and just drive.

6    Riding a motorcycle? Wear a DOT-compliant  helmet.

7    Parents, model good driving for your children.

8    When boating, always wear a life jacket.

Practice these safety tips, share them with your family and friends, and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2012.

Stop, Look, Listen … and Enjoy

By Debbie Hersman

Whether you travel by auto, plane, train, or sleigh, we wish our readers safe travels.

Here at the NTSB we are committed to safety. We tell people to buckle up for safety; to stop, look, and listen at railroad tracks; or to be well rested before they get into the cockpit. Last week, we issued a nationwide call for people to put down their cell-phones and pay attention to the road while they are driving.

We do have a lot to say, but we make these recommendations because we see the tragic results. When the NTSB recommends a nationwide ban on personal electronic devices, or that motorcycle riders wear helmets, or that boaters wear personal flotation devices, we are doing what the facts from our investigations and studies tell us can save lives.

Each year, there are just too many tragic losses. Last year, more than 32,000 people died on our roadways — from alcohol-impaired crashes, from distraction, from fatigue, and more. Our staff work hard every day to learn what happened, make recommendations, and then advocate for change so there won’t be needless and tragic losses.

We want everyone to get home safely, especially at this time of the year when it is so important for families and friends to be together.

On that note, I hope all of our Safety Compass readers have a safe and joyous holiday season and a wonderful 2012.

A Rested Pilot is a Safer Pilot

By Debbie Hersman

Tragically, the NTSB has investigated too many accidents across all modes of transportation where fatigue has been a factor. We have seen firsthand what can happen from the debilitating effects of fatigue. In fact, fatigue has been on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 1990.

Over the first century of powered flight, countless accidents trace pilot fatigue as a contributing factor. Human fatigue was the probable cause for the 1993 American International Airways flight 808 crash in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Other air carrier accidents that involved fatigued pilots include American Airlines flight 1420 at Little Rock, Ark.; Corporate Airlines flight 5966 accident at Kirksville, Mo.; and, most recently, the Colgan Air flight 3407 accident outside Buffalo, N.Y.

This is why the NTSB is so pleased that the FAA today issued a long-awaited science-based rule for flight and duty time. Secretary LaHood and former FAA Administrator Babbitt have worked long and hard to shepherd this contentious rule through the rulemaking process. We applaud the leadership of DOT and FAA for bringing it across the finish line.

While this is not a perfect rule, it is a huge improvement over the status quo for large passenger operations. Yet, we are extremely disappointed that the new rule is limited to Part 121 passenger airlines. A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pallets.

We look forward to working with the FAA and the aviation community to support the rule’s essential education and training components and to identify areas where additional measures are needed.

Data Saves Lives

By Debbie Hersman

Data saves lives. That was the main point of a talk I was privileged to give this week in Montreal. I was deeply honored to be invited by the Montreal Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society to give the 8th Annual Assad Kotaite Lecture.  The annual lecture is a tribute to Dr. Assad Kotaite, a longstanding President of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In my talk, “Assuring Safety in Aviation’s Second Century,” I highlighted the past, present, and future of accident investigation and spoke about how accident investigation must adapt to play an even more pivotal role in creating civil aviation’s safer and stronger future. I used examples from two recent and highly challenging accident investigations to illustrate how accident investigation will depend far more on data and cooperation than in the past.

It was a privilege to have this opportunity to meet with so many dedicated and talented aviation leaders and to meet Dr. Kotaite, whose work has made such tremendous contribution to international aviation.

Improving Safety at the Source

By Deborah Hersman

Pitcure of Chairman Hersman and NTSB staff with Prevost employees.
Pictured from left to right are Tom Barth, NTSB, myself, Gaetan Bolduc, Prevost President and CEO, Hugues Beaudry, Prevost VP of Product Development and Purchasing, Michele Beckjord, NTSB, Yvan Mailhot, Prevost VP of Operations, and Deny Bertrand, Prevost Director of Regulatory Compliance. Photo: Kris Poland, NTSB.

Yesterday, several NTSB investigators and I visited Prevost, a major motorcoach manufacturer, to discuss bus occupant safety, an issue on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. Prevost, headquartered in Quebec, Canada, manufactured about 580 motorcoaches this year, most of them are destined for the US market.

As a result of previous accident investigations, the NTSB has issued a number of recommendations to prevent accidents or improve occupant protection by improving vehicle design or performance. In most cases, we have asked DOT to establish standards or requirements, and unfortunately NTSB recommendations have languished for years, in some areas we have been waiting for a decade or more with little or no progress.

That is why I was so excited to see a manufacturer taking the lead when it comes to safety – for example, today I learned that all new Prevost buses in the US are being equipped with lap and shoulder belts at all passenger seating positions as standard equipment. In addition, between 85 and 90% of Prevost coaches are purchased with their electronic stability program. The buses also have optional safety systems such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems that are specifically tailored to the unique characteristics of the motorcoach environment. I was very pleased to see all of these positive steps forward consistent with NTSB recommendations.