Heading Back to School Safely

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

 It’s nearing the end of August. Gone are the days of lounging by the pool or on the beach, or running around and playing outside. Soon, crowds of children will be waiting on the street corner for their school bus to arrive. It’s almost Labor Day, and the back-to-school season is upon us.

‘Tis the season for worrying about a lot of things: hunting down the best sales on school supplies and clothes, buying the right books, hoping your children will have good teachers and make new friends . . . the list goes on. It’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns, but now is also the time to discuss with your kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. For example, although the school bus is the safest method of transportation to and from school, when a bus crash does happen, we investigate to uncover any relevant safety issues so they can be fixed. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including impaired driving, distracted driving, and fatigue-related accidents) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.

So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take as a family this school year to ensure a safe commute, you can do your part to help make transportation safety a priority.

Check out some of our back-to-school blog posts for some conversation starters and tips for keeping your children and their peers safe on the roads.

Safe Skies for Africa Ends, but the Safety Journey Continues

By: Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

August 2019 Safe Skies for Africa symposium, Lagos, Nigeria
NTSB staff and attendees at the Safe Skies for Africa symposium in Lagos, Nigeria

After 21 years, the Safe Skies for Africa (SSFA) program officially came to an end last week at a symposium in Lagos, Nigeria. The program was established in 1998 in part to increase direct commercial air service between the United States and Africa, which was minimal at the time. Administered by the US Department of Transportation and funded by the US State Department, the SSFA program has accomplished many of its original objectives since inception, including improving the safety and security of aviation on the African continent. Over a dozen symposia and workshops have been held over the life of the program, and we organized past SSFA symposia with the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority and Kenya’s Air Accident Investigation Department. This year’s event was hosted by the Air Investigation Bureau-Nigeria (AIB-N), who also sent a team of accident investigators and industry representative to participate.

Former NTSB Managing Director (and program pioneer) Dennis Jones spent nearly 20 years in the SSFA program, participating in accident investigations, conducting workshops, helping improve accident investigation programs, and training investigators. In his opinion, the Safe Skies program has done what it was created to do. At the outset of the program, few African airlines and hardly any US airlines were flying to Africa, even though it’s the world’s second-largest continent. Today, two US carriers provide direct service to Africa, and six African countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, Cape Verde, and Kenya) have direct routes to the United States.

Along with increased US commercial air service to Africa, air investigation quality has improved, resulting in a lower accident rate and greater safety in commercial aviation in Africa. Many African nations now have their own accident investigation agencies, and some are even developing multimodal agencies based on the NTSB model.

We were honored to again join other NTSB communications specialists and experts, as well as former NTSB Managing Director Dennis Jones, for the final symposium. The symposium focused on the following topics:

  • The NTSB’s background and history
  • Emerging aviation safety issues
  • The investigative process and human factors
  • Accident classification and substantial damage
  • Helicopter operations
  • The challenges of providing family assistance
  • Effective safety advocacy: creating positive change in transportation safety

Our team shared lessons learned from NTSB accident investigations, as well as strategies to help our international counterparts take steps in their own aviation safety journey. The AIB-N participants were focused and receptive to our presentations, and the event was bittersweet as we parted ways with old colleagues and brought the program to a close.

Although the SSFA program has resulted in many improvements over its 21 years, more remains to be done. Safe and reliable aviation connects people all over the world, in more ways than you may realize. Aircraft components, engines, and airframes come from manufacturers all over the world. The airplanes they comprise might be flown by airlines in any country. We are all stakeholders in aviation safety, regardless of what continent we inhabit.

We look forward to more programs like SSFA that will advance international collaboration on aviation safety issues. I’m confident that new safety ambassadors will follow in the footsteps of those who participated in the SSFA program, and I look forward to working with the pioneers who participate in these programs going forward.

For our blogs on the other NTSB SSFA symposia in South Africa and Kenya, please see links below:

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/ntsb-supports-safe-skies-for-africa-initiative/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/another-step-toward-safer-skies-in-africa/

 

Safe and Sound at Work

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Last week, I kicked off Safe and Sound Week—an Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiative—with this video message. In the video, I reminded NTSB employees that one of the things our agency does is meet with victims’ family members on perhaps on the worst day of their lives. I told my colleagues that I’d consider it the ultimate failure to ever have to sit down with any of their family members to tell them that something bad had happened to them while they were on the job at the NTSB.

Workplace safety is not included in the NTSB’s statutory mission, but it certainly is “in our lane,” just as it’s in any organization’s lane. I believe workplace safety should be built into how we think and act at the NTSB. Our agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Program team recently challenged all of us to define what safety means. My answer was, “constantly anticipating bad things that can happen and then proactively taking actions to mitigate those things so that no one gets hurt.”

That answer was based on, among other things, a particular personal experience. I remember a street crossing near my home that was adjacent to a blind curve obstructed by shrubbery. It seemed a little dangerous, but I never really thought much of it until I had to dart back to the curb to avoid being struck by a car. After that, I found another crossing point about 15 feet away that was a little safer. Why hadn’t I found that safer crossing sooner? Because I hadn’t been constantly anticipating what could happen and working to mitigate the danger.

Now, take an example of the same lack of risk assessment to a broader scale. We recently completed our investigation of an accident near DuPont, Washington, where a transit train on its inaugural revenue service run failed to slow down from 78 mph when entering a curve with a speed restriction of 30 mph. The train derailed, sending several cars plummeting to the interstate below. Three passengers were killed, and 55 people were injured—including 8 in vehicles on the road. The transit agency responsible for assessing risk on this curve had determined one mitigation prior to the derailment: implementing positive train control (PTC); however, PTC implementation was delayed, and the transit agency didn’t find another means of mitigating the risk before carrying on with the inaugural run.

Just like me crossing the street near my home, the transit agency was not constantly anticipating what could happen and taking action to mitigate the worst-case scenario. That lack of action put not only the train’s passengers at risk, but the agency’s employees, as well.

Workplace safety doesn’t fall solely on an organization’s management, though. It’s a shared responsibility between an agency and each of its employees. Ask your workplace safety experts what to look for when assessing your workplace for safety risks. In my agency, the risks vary widely from an accident scene to the office, but we strive to address all possible scenarios to keep ourselves—and each other—safe. Wherever you work, slips, trips, falls, fire hazards, and other workplace safety concerns are undoubtedly “in your lane.” It’s up to all of us to assess our workplace risk and take actions to mitigate it.

PTC, 50 Years After Darien

By Member Jennifer Homendy

Exactly 50 years ago today, two Penn Central commuter trains collided in Darien, Connecticut. Four people died and 43 others were injured. The collision led to our first recommendation related to positive train control (PTC). Today, I joined Senator Richard Blumenthal at a commemoration of the accident in New Haven. The senator and I share the same goal: to see PTC implementation completed.

In the past half century, we have investigated more than 150 PTC-preventable accidents that have taken the lives of more than 300 people and injured 6,700 others. PTC was on our first Most Wanted List in 1990, and it’s still on our Most Wanted List today.

In 2008, when it became clear that, even after a series of deadly crashes, the railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) weren’t going to voluntarily implement PTC, Congress took action and made PTC implementation mandatory. The railroads have made progress—albeit slowly—in the past 11 years. Some have almost fully implemented PTC, but others lag far behind. The deadline for PTC implementation was extended to the end of 2018; however, if a railroad met certain benchmarks, it could qualify for a 24-month extension. Nearly all railroads satisfied the criteria to extend the deadline, which is now set for December 31, 2020.

The December 2020 extended deadline is fast approaching, yet a lot of work remains to be done. Some railroads are still installing equipment—which is a task that should’ve been completed by now. Railroads should be providing ongoing PTC training and actively working toward interoperability with other railroads on their lines. They should be getting their safety plans to the FRA for final certification and approval. Although there is a lot to accomplish over the next 16 months, our message is simple: No more extensions, no more excuses, and no more delays. It’s time to finish the job!

From the day that President Kennedy urged America to put a person on the moon to the day that Neil Armstrong took those historic steps, it was only 8 short years. Think about that—8 years to get a human to the moon. Yet, it’s been 50 since the accident in Darien, and we still haven’t managed to get PTC up and running on our country’s rails.

As I stood in my native Connecticut today, I thought about the four people killed there on August 20, 1969, a half century ago. It’s been over a decade since Congress mandated PTC, and the traveling public is still at unnecessary risk. It’s time for the railroads to finish the job.

August 20, 2019 Press Event in New Haven, Connecticut
In this photo, taken August 20, 2019, at Union Station in New Haven, Connecticut, NTSB Member Jennifer Homendy is with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal at a press event to mark the fiftieth anniversary of a fatal train collision in Darien, Connecticut, and to call for the full implementation of Positive Train Control. NTSB photo by Stephanie Shaw

Don’t Get Grounded: Med Form Accuracy Matters

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

“Always tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and amaze your friends.” This almost direct quote from Mark Twain is essential advice for pilots who are coming up for a medical certificate renewal, initial application, or going for BasicMed.

The online medical form 8500.8, as well as BasicMed form 8700-2, is perilous for the careless and those inclined to “stretch” the truth. MedExpress has lots of fine print, but it’s critical that pilots read and understand what it says, particularly question 18v, which asks “Have you EVER in your LIFE . . .,” and proceeds to list every possible way a driver could have encountered law enforcement relative to impaired driving, including drunk driving, being arrested without conviction, paying a fine, receiving suspension or administrative action, attending a rehab program or an education program—anything.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a special investigation division in Oklahoma City whose sole function is to cross check medical applications with the National Driver Register (NDR). They’re very good at ferreting out any indiscretion, and even a slight fabrication can cost you every certificate you have. When you submit the paperwork, either for a medical certificate or BasicMed, you give the FAA permission to look you up in the NDR.

Let’s look at an example. A pilot provides an incorrect answer on the form, accidentally or not, then attests that everything on the form is true. A medical certificate is issued or, in the case of basic medical, the doctor maintains a record and one is provided to the pilot. Several months later, the Oklahoma City team checks the NDR, finds a record relating to the pilot, and sends a letter asking the pilot for information. A letter of revocation may follow, which the pilot may then appeal to an NTSB administrative law judge; however, as codified in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 67.403(c), inaccuracies on an airman medical application form are grounds for possible revocation of any and all FAA certificates, including those for which no medical is required (for example, ground instructor, A & P, AI, etc.). NTSB is required to follow both law and precedent so FAA’s revocation may not be easy to overturn unless there has been an error.

Now, let’s rewind to when the pilot is initially filling out the form. Say the pilot truthfully reports that he had an alcohol- or drug-related driving event, whether 20 years ago or last month. The FAA will ask some additional questions and will likely require additional documentation. Depending on the circumstances, such as length of time since the event, number of events, and level of impairment, the incident may not amount to much. If it’s a recent event, chances are good that there will be some additional hoops to go through and some delay in getting back in the air, but it’s unlikely that there will be a revocation action. Yes, it will take some time and money to work through the process, but nothing like what happens if a pilot tries to sneak through without reporting the event. It’s imperative to remember, also, that once you have reported an incident, you must report it on every subsequent medical application.

If an impairment incident occurs between medical exams, you should report it immediately. Title 49 CFR 61.15 states that you have 60 days after a law enforcement encounter involving alcohol or drugs to self-report to the FAA. Failure to make that report can result in suspension of your medical certificate.

For aviation medical examiners and personal physicians: please personally coach your applicants very carefully on these points. A false answer on the medical application could ground them permanently, while a truthful answer will likely result in some temporary delay before medical certification.

It’s in everyone’s interest to follow these rules to protect the public and to keep aviation out of the court of public opinion. The fine print on your medical forms matters! Don’t let a careless mistake—or a purposeful lie—keep you grounded.

Speeding: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

By Member Jennifer Homendy

Every day I drive to work on one of the busiest freeways in the country. That freeway has a posted speed limit of 55-65 miles per hour. I am amazed how many drivers disregard the posted speed limit and use the freeway as their opportunity to drive like they are in the Indy 500.

Many people speed because they are trying to make it to their destination sooner. But here’s the thing – according to AAA, on a 30-mile trip, you would only arrive 8 minutes sooner driving at 75 miles per hour (a dangerous, and rarely posted speed limit) than you would driving 55 miles per hour.

Saving 8 minutes on a trip isn’t worth the increased risk of taking a life. On average, 10,000 people die every year in speeding-related traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2017, the NTSB released a Safety Study, “Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles” which examined the trends in speeding-related passenger vehicle crashes and identified proven and promising countermeasures to prevent these crashes. We issued 19 safety recommendations which, if implemented, will prevent future crashes and save lives.

One of those safety recommendations was issued to the Federal Highway Administration. We recommended that they remove guidance to states to set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of what 85% of the traffic is travelling at, which only leads to ever-increasing speed limits. Since the mid-1990s, we have watched more and more states increase their speed limits up to 80-85 miles per hour. Just because 85% of traffic is flowing at 80 miles per hour, doesn’t mean speed limits should be set at that speed! At this rate, in 10 years, we could see states increasing their speed limits to 90 miles per hour!

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Speeding increases the likelihood of being involved in a crash and intensifies the severity of injuries sustained in a crash. According to the World Health Organization, vehicle occupants involved in a crash with an impact speed of 50 mph are 20 times more likely to die than had the vehicle been traveling at 20 mph. Additionally, the impact of vehicle speed in urban areas where there are more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists is even more serious.

Now, you might be thinking, Member Homendy, I’m not the Federal Highway Administration, I can’t implement this recommendation. That is true. What you can do is drive the posted speed limit and you can talk to your friends and family about doing that too. And if you’re a parent of a young driver, demonstrate and talk to them about safe driving behaviors and especially about speed limits.

Across the country, states have raised and are considering raising speed limits on their roads to dangerous levels. And many of those decisions are based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic. We shouldn’t base decisions about speed limits on behaviors we know are dangerous. Higher speeds create the opportunity for even more fatal crashes.

 

The issue of speeding is highlighted on our 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements (Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes).

Oshkosh AirVenture 2019: Raise the Bar of Your Safety Culture

By Aaron Sauer, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator, and Amy Terrone, NTSB Safety Advocate

Loss of control and midair accidents, drones in accident investigations, startle effects and distraction, general aviation safety trends, and survivor stories (oh my!)—these are just a few of the topics NTSB staff will present at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The goal of our presentations is to encourage every aviator and aviation professional to raise the bar of their safety culture.

Safety culture comprises an organization’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and values regarding safety. It’s an idea with its roots in the safety of organizations; however, pilots have their own unique safety culture, as well, exchanging information informally about aircraft characteristics, avionics, and even en-route concerns, such as weather and notices to airmen (NOTAMs), that might affect a flight.

In fact, every organization has a culture, but not all culture is related to a formal organization. We are interested in helping pilots raise the safety culture bar within the broader aviation community. That’s why nearly 20 NTSB investigators, vehicle recorder specialists, safety advocates, and even the NTSB’s own Chairman Robert Sumwalt will be walking the AirVenture grounds daily July 22–28, sharing insights and learning from others.

Oshkosh forum series graphic

AirVenture is billed as the largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts in the United States, and maybe even the world. One week each summer, more than 500,000 EAA members, aviation enthusiasts, and pilots from 80 countries come to Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Attendees watch air shows and aerobatics and pyrotechnics displays, and attend educational forums, workshops, and demonstrations. In addition to those in the aviation industry, the event also draws members of the general public interested in aviation.

We’ve maintained an exhibit booth and delivered informative presentations at AirVenture for the past 15 years. In addition to presenting, NTSB investigators are always on hand to begin the on‑scene phase of an investigation if needed, because, unfortunately, at least one or two accidents occur each year as aircraft fly into the event. In fact, these fly-in accidents have led us to publish a safety alert urging pilots to keep their focus on safety while arriving at a major fly-in event like AirVenture, where there are more planes in the parking lot than cars.

This year we’ve asked some of the industry’s leading safety experts and those with unique insights to help us spread our safety culture message.

We’ll work with Patty Wagstaff, a legendary acrobatic pilot, to kick off the first day of the event with a discussion about what it means to “Raise the Bar of Your Safety Culture with Challenging Training.” Tim LeBaron, the deputy director for the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety Regional Operations, will introduce Wagstaff and offer preliminary comments on this issue.

The rest of the week will be filled with opportunities to learn more about how pilots can play their part in building a stronger safety culture. Staff will present several accident case studies that highlight pilot errors, lack of proficiency, and decisions that led to loss of control in flight. They will include a case study of a Teterboro, New Jersey, crash that illustrates our new Most Wanted List (MWL) issue area, “Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations.”

MWL06s_Part135

We will also talk about weather challenges—a significant concern in general aviation flying—and how to manage and overcome a variety of scenarios, and we’ll share several safety alerts related to weather. Our research team will present general aviation safety trends and new statistics, and we’ll discuss distraction, a long-time MWL issue that is dramatically affected by the proliferation of technology in the cockpit.

But perhaps the most important presentations we will give are the ones that remind us of why we do what we do—that is, issue safety recommendations to prevent accidents and crashes.

We’ve also teamed up with two accident survivors to help drive our message home. These speakers will share their harrowing stories in the hopes that they can motivate other pilots to avoid the same mistakes. Dan Bass will offer the riveting story of how he survived an in-flight loss of consciousness due to a carbon monoxide leak, a serious safety concern that has prompted us to release several safety alerts on the topic. Trent Palmer and Nikk Audenried will share their story about a loss-of-control accident they experienced that was widely shared via YouTube. Preventing loss of control in flight has been featured on the NTSB MWL for several years.

If you’re attending AirVenture, plan to visit our booth in Exhibit Hangar D in the Federal Pavilion to meet investigators, touch a real-life “black box” (actually orange), and learn about our most important general aviation safety issues and our current MWL. You’ll likely find the Chairman engaging with pilots around our booth, and you can tune into EAA radio during the week for some of his key general aviation safety insights. We would certainly like to see you join us for our presentations and you can plan your itinerary by visiting https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2019-EAA-AirVenture-EVT.aspx.

Even if you can’t make it to AirVenture 2019, rest assured that we’re using opportunities like AirVenture throughout the year to encourage general aviation aviators and aviation professionals to raise the bar when it comes to safety.

The Official Blog of the NTSB Chairman

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