Staying Cool and Getting Safer

By Deborah Hersman

Tugboat and coal barge on the Ohio River (photo: Flickr user MoToMo)
Tugboat and coal barge on the Ohio River (photo: Flickr user MoToMo)

This summer has seen record temperatures throughout the nation. I know that during the hottest July on record in Washington, D.C., we really appreciated our air conditioning. Of course, air conditioning requires electricity, which depends on coal among other power sources. Did you know that the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry transports one-fifth of America’s coal on our nation’s inland waterways and coasts?

One way to make sure that coal — as well as the thousands of other products carried on commercial vessels — get to their destinations safely is for the waterways operators to operate under a safety management system (SMS). The NTSB believes in the power of an SMS, when developed well and used to its full potential, to identify problems in all modes of commercial transportation before they lead to tragedies that take lives and interrupt commerce. That’s why the NTSB placed SMS on its Most Wanted List in June.

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard published proposed safety regulations to establish SMS standards for the industry. This is an important step to improve safety. Further, through the leadership of the American Waterways Operators, the towing industry has encouraged the development of, and yesterday announced their support for, this important initiative to improve safety.

Congratulations to the U.S. Coast Guard and the AWO for this important step to improve safety on our nation’s waterways.

Partners in Accident Response: The American Red Cross and the NTSB

By Deborah Hersman

The NTSB and ARC work together closely in the aftermath of transportation disasters

As too many Americans have learned in recent years, disasters, natural or man-made, are devastating. But in the aftermath of a disaster, chaos and destruction are replaced with order through the coordinated efforts of many organizations. When the NTSB begins its work at an accident site, the American Red Cross is on-scene with us to support not only the survivors of a transportation disaster, but also the families and friends of the victims by assisting with housing, food, and counseling services.

A recent example of Red Cross assistance occurred earlier this summer following a truck/Amtrak train collision near Miriam, Nevada. Shortly after the accident, they established a temporary gathering center in a nearby elementary school where the surviving passengers could find shelter from the desert heat and injured passengers were triaged.

The relationship between the American Red Cross and the NTSB was formalized by Congress in two important pieces of legislation, the 1996 Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act and the 2008 Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act. The American Red Cross has the primary responsibility for coordinating the emergency care and support of the families of passengers involved in certain aviation and passenger rail accidents. In recent years, our relationship with the American Red Cross has been expanded to other modes of transportation, so the NTSB can count on this essential support when we investigate highway, marine, and pipeline accidents as well.

The NTSB is grateful to the American Red Cross for the humanitarian services they provide during very difficult times following transportation accidents. We appreciate our partnership with the American Red Cross and look forward to its continuation for many years to come.

Leading the way for truck safety

By Deborah Hersman

This week in Orlando, FL, more than 400 of our nation’s top professional truck drivers are gathering together to test their skills at the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) 47th National Truck Driving Championships. Commonly referred to as the “Super Bowl of Safety,” this year’s annual event is bringing together 400 truck drivers, who have already won competitions at their state championships, to compete at the national level.

For the next four days, the drivers’ skills and knowledge will be tested during written exams, pre-trip inspections and on-course driving. Each driver will maneuver through one difficult obstacle after another, all the while demonstrating precision and pinpoint control. On Saturday, when the competition is over and the scores are tallied, one driver will emerge as the National Grand Champion. And while that driver will have rightly earned the title of Champion, each of the competitors deserve recognition.

America’s professional truck drivers keep our economy moving. They travel every day –often very far from home— along our nation’s busy interstates, highways and city streets to safely deliver their cargo. Events like this help reinforce drivers’ attentiveness to the safe operation of their truck. While I wish the drivers success in their competition, I hope that all truckers will strive for safety with every trip… that way, we all win.

Phenomenal Women

By Deborah Hersman

Last week, I had the privilege of attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI.  As aviation buffs know, AirVenture has evolved into one of the world’s largest “fly-in” jamborees and each year brings together more than 500,000 pilots and aviation enthusiasts from around the globe.

While there, I had the honor of attending the Women in Aviation International’s (WAI) annual “WAI Connect” breakfast, which celebrates women aviators. The day started with a re-enactment of the life of Harriet Quimby by Connie Tobias, a 30-year aviation veteran and US Airways captain with more than 20,000 flight hours.

Tobias brought Quimby to life and conveyed the daring and courageous spirit of the first female to earn a U.S. pilot’s certificate.  A journalist by profession, in October 1910, Quimby went to the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament to cover the races. It was there that she was bitten by the flying bug. Seeing the men racing above her, she declared “I can do that.  And I will.”

From left to right: Connie Tobias as Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall and Deborah Hersman

And she did.

Quimby’s story is one of determination and drive and perhaps above all, a “can do” spirit. She simply would not take “no” for an answer.  She broke new ground then and, thankfully, women in aviation are still breaking new ground today.

During breakfast, I had the pleasure of meeting two remarkable women — Marty Wyall and Anna Dietrich. Wyall, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs, flew trainers during World War II and with her sister WASPs, broke barriers, challenged norms, and helped pave the way for women to fly in the military. Dietrich is Chief Operating Officer and one of the founders of Terrafugia, Inc., the company that is breaking new ground with its flying car.

As I told the WAI membership, these two women’s pioneering accomplishments echo Harriet Quimby. Just like Quimby, they knew what they could do, went after it, and did it.

My challenge to the more than 200 women gathered at “WAI Connect” was this:  Live up to the legacy of Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall, and Anna Dietrich. Dare to be different, redefine normal, and strive for the extraordinary.  At the same time, bring forward the next generation of aviators. Show them how to be daring, but teach them to fly safely.

General Aviation: Up Close, Exciting, and Committed to Safety

By Deborah Hersman

Member Hersman with Paul Poberezny (Founder, EAA) and Rod Hightower (President, EAA)

What a week this has been! I have literally been across the country and across our nation’s transportation landscape. On Monday, I rode the train from DC to New Jersey to meet with members of the boards of transit authorities to talk about their role in safety oversight. On Tuesday, we conducted a board meeting to determine the probable cause of an October 2009 cargo tank truck rollover accident near Indianapolis. Then, on Wednesday, NTSB Board Member Earl Weener and I departed for Wisconsin on his Bonanza (a single-engine general aviation airplane manufactured by Beech).

In the aviation world, flying to Oshkosh, WI, can mean only one thing — EAA AirVenture. For nearly 60 years, the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, has hosted what has turned into the world’s biggest aviation celebration at its annual “fly-in” jamboree.

At the NTSB, my usual interaction with the general aviation (GA) community is through tragedy — at the scene of an accident, reading a report, or participating in a board meeting following an often-fatal accident. In this line of work, I usually see what goes wrong rather than what goes right. I am pleased to report at AirVenture this week, I got to see the right stuff!

Continue reading General Aviation: Up Close, Exciting, and Committed to Safety

Teaming Up To Improve Safety

By Earl Weener

RV-10 (Photo credit: Greg Hale)

Homebuilt aircraft, known in the United States as Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft, or E-AB, have existed as long as powered flight. As the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) explains, “you could say that the Wright brothers were the first homebuilders, since they never relied on a factory to construct their airplanes.” Like today’s homebuilders, they used their own craftsmanship to build a flying machine.

About 33,000 of the 224,000 U.S. general aviation aircraft are E-AB and include a wide variety of aircraft built from prefabricated kits, existing plans, or a builder’s unique design. While the enthusiastic community that builds these aircraft has long been a force for innovation, unfortunately, we are seeing higher accident rates among this group of aircraft than in other general aviation segments.

The NTSB and EAA are collaborating to identify how to improve that record. The NTSB launched a study of accidents involving E-AB aircraft. The study is looking at a range of areas, including builder assistance programs, transition training for E-AB pilot-builders, flight test and certification requirements, and maintenance.

EAA is supporting the study by hosting a web-based survey this summer. Operators, builders, and owners of E-AB aircraft who are interested in participating in the survey should go to

This week, Chairman Deborah Hersman and I are traveling to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the nation’s largest aviation event, which attracts homebuilders from across the country and around the world. This will be a great opportunity to see firsthand the range of homebuilt aircraft and talk directly with builders and pilots. I’m looking forward to it.

We expect to publish the completed safety study by fall 2012.

Honorable Earl F. WeenerEarl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

He Was Working on the Railroad…

By James Southworth

Today, the railroad industry marks a 197th anniversary. On July 25, 1814, English engineer George Stephenson demonstrated the first steam locomotive. Stephenson did not invent the steam engine, but he developed the technology to move steam engines from hauling coalmining carts to powering the first form of commercial rapid transportation. Previously, the horse-drawn carriage was the fastest means of land travel. Now, two centuries later, railroads are essential to our lives.

Stephenson may have revolutionized land travel, but he also unwittingly introduced a new kind of transportation danger. On the maiden voyage of Stephenson’s rail line from Liverpool to Manchester, a Member of Parliament and one of several dignitaries on the train, William Huskisson, climbed onto the tracks to talk with the Prime Minister during a refueling stop. Another train pulling into the station on the same rail struck Huskisson. It may seem incredible today, but those early locomotives had no brakes. Stephenson unhooked the passenger cars from one of his trains and personally rushed Huskisson to medical attention. Without the extra weight of the passenger cars, the unburdened train was able to reach an astonishing 40 mph, then a world speed record. Unfortunately, that speed was not enough to save Huskisson, who later died of his injuries.

The Huskisson accident was the first of many. As Chairman Hersman pointed out in a speech at the U.S. railroad industry’s annual Harriman Awards, by the early 20th century, 48 percent of all deaths in the United States happened on railroads. At the turn of that century, lack of safety was an accepted cost of innovation. Today, safety is a goal of innovation. Railroads are investing in new safety technologies, such as positive train control, which gathers data about the positions of trains relative to each other, and automatically stops a train if another train is approaching on the same rail. What is good is that there are many 21st century innovators like George Stephenson, who are working to make trains better and safer.

James Southworth is the Railroad Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations.

The Official Blog of the NTSB Chairman

%d bloggers like this: