By Christopher A. Hart
The transportation of goods and people almost always succeeds without anything going wrong. In those rare cases where something does go wrong, however, the NTSB steps in to investigate. We make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar recurrence and we promote—or advocate—for the implementation of our recommendations.
To inform our investigations and make thoughtful recommendations, it is critical for us to understand how it all works at the operator level. We are trying to spend more time learning from those who manage the business of transportation without mishaps so that we won’t have to spend as much time investigating crashes that could have been prevented.
Last week, NTSB staff and I visited seven transportation organizations in Kansas and my native Colorado to promote NTSB views on safety and, perhaps most importantly, to learn about how they implement safety into their day-to-day operations.
I was pleased to discover many safety processes in place that were recommended by NTSB. We had informative discussions about how to approach safety proactively in order to prevent the kind of catastrophic accidents we investigate. Fortunately, most that we talk to in the industry, it seems, are taking crash prevention seriously.
For more than 80 years, Jeppesen has been helping aviation professionals worldwide reach their destinations safely and efficiently. They offer an array of informational products, services, and software—not only to their air transportation partners, but also to a growing line-up of sea and land transportation partners.
I was given an overview of their digital technology products, toured their customer support center, and learned about their electronic data-driven charting applications.
The NTSB has seen how bringing new technology to bear to enhance transportation safety can yield great benefits. Jeppesen takes pride in safety, and that was apparent during my visit.
Sierra Nevada Corporation works in the commercial space sector, an area of keen interest for the NTSB, and the next frontier for transportation safety. As the commercial space sector grows, we continue to grow in our knowledge of the industry.
I received an overview of the corporation and of Sierra Nevada’s view of the space systems business, small satellite manufacturing, and space technologies manufacturing. Our hosts also shared information on their new spacecraft, its Engineering Test Article, Flight Simulator, Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory, and Flight Integration Control Lab.
It was an eye-opening look at one of the many companies working in the commercial space sector, and I was impressed by this industry’s willingness to collaborate. Commercial space operators are now learning, as did their aviation counterparts before them, that when it comes to safety, companies must share and collaborate on new safety approaches — even as they compete in other aspects of their business.
We have issued several recent recommendations over the years regarding emergency medical service operations, so I was excited to tour Air Methods Corporation, one of the nation’s largest operators of air medical transport.
I learned about its Helicopter Air Ambulance program, and toured the Completion Center, Operational Control Center, Technical Services, and United Rotorcraft, Operations, Maintenance and Clinical facility — all play a critical role in the safety of their helicopter operations.
As I spoke to future helicopter pilots and medical trainees at Air Methods, I took the opportunity to help encourage their culture of safety, as they face the many challenges that are inherent in their business, by sharing with them our passion for transportation safety.
I grew up in a Denver with few mass transit options, so it was a pleasure to see the expansion of rail, light rail, and bus operations in my hometown through the Denver RTD FasTracks program. As I toured the east rail line and the 225 rail line, it occurred to me how important it was for Denver’s FasTracks to pursue a proactive approach to make Mass Transit Safer –an NTSB Most Wanted List issue area this year – which I was pleased to see them emphasize.
I also visited with leaders from the Colorado Motor Carriers Association (CMCA), a non-profit organization that has provided support for Colorado’s trucking industry for more than 75 years, and with multimodal shipping giant UPS, in Denver, CO.
Both groups were eager to discuss ways to Strengthen Commercial Trucking Safety, another item on NTSB’s Most Wanted List of critical safety improvements this year.
I learned about the distinctive features of the new UPS 2015 Kenworth truck-tractor. The truck is equipped with some of the most advanced safety systems for heavy-duty trucks, which include the latest in collision avoidance, collision mitigation, and stability-control technologies. Making collision avoidance systems standard in commercial vehicles is a recent NTSB recommendation, the result of a special investigation report released in May.
I was impressed by the extent of driver training that many commercial drivers undergo; however, the large size of commercial trucks — and, consequently, the damage they can cause in any crash — makes it imperative to continuously look for ways to improve commercial trucking.
All of these transportation giants share a common goal: continually look for ways to improve safety. To succeed, they must continue to take a proactive approach to safety, and, like all those organizations committed to safety and protecting lives, they must be both bold and humble.
Humble — because even an organization with the best safety record can have a major accident tomorrow—and bold — because anticipating and preventing accidents are the best ways to move safety forward.