By Dennis Jones, Acting Managing Director
Recently, I had the opportunity to address aviation experts at the 6th World Civil Aviation Chief Executives Forum in Singapore. This forum is a unique gathering of aviation leaders who meet to discuss the latest developments and issues affecting the global aviation industry and to exchange experiences, insights, and ideas. I spoke on a panel with colleagues from safety agencies across the world. Our topic was “Ensuring Oversight, Rethinking Safety.” We discussed the future role of safety regulation and the challenges facing safety management as the field continues to grow and develop. I was honored to share my thoughts on this topic because my entire career has been focused on improving safety, both as an investigator and manager with the NTSB for nearly 40 years and as a pilot.
Looking at the progress we have made in the world of commercial aviation here in the United States, one might say we have reached our pinnacle. Aviation is now the safest it has ever been, and we are experiencing a period of zero fatalities in the commercial sphere. But we must not get complacent; we must continue to grow and learn.
Although the aviation industry can share among itself the challenges we have overcome to improve transportation safety, we can also learn a lot from other modes of transportation, as well. For example, in rail, companies are installing in-cab video to monitor operator and crew behavior and to develop best practices to improve safety; aviation could—and should—do the same. At the same time, as more driver assistance technologies are installed in vehicles of all types, and fully automated vehicles are already being tested, the highway community could learn from aviation’s experience with using automation within its operating environment.
Avoiding complacency means keeping your eyes open, receiving and sharing information, and always being ready to respond. As a multimodal investigative agency, we have seen too many ways in which disasters can occur, and some have involved complacency—becoming too bored or familiar with standard operating procedures, which leads to a lack of interest or desire to follow the established procedures. By issuing safety recommendations, such as those focused on procedural compliance, we try to urge operators to avoid this risk and a subsequent tragic outcome.
Safety is a journey, not a destination. Although, we are seeing zero fatalities in commercial aviation, our general aviation community is still suffering losses every day, sustaining nearly 400 fatal accidents a year in the US alone. Why? We must keep asking the questions and seeking the answers to bring this number down to zero.
The NTSB does not issue regulations; we are focused on solving the accident mystery and issuing appropriate recommendations to improve safety and prevent future incidents. Regulations may be one way to do this, but we have always understood that safety goes beyond rulemaking. One tool we use to call attention to the issues we can all act on is our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The Most Wanted List keeps us focused on our key safety priorities and is one way to avoid complacency on those most important live-saving issues. Despite how many regulations are in place, if an operator or individual doesn’t embrace safety, there is always an increased risk for an accident.
To continue the progress we’ve made, to ensure a safe transportation system for the traveling public, we must admit our own responsibility and role in improving safety, and we must work collaboratively: investigators, engineers, CEOs, pilots. Safety can only be achieved through worldwide collaboration and a continued invested interest in learning, growing, improving, and saving lives.