Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reviewing the NTSB's 'Most Wanted List' for aviation safety improvements

by B. N. Sullivan

NTSB logoWe all know that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) publishes a 'Most Wanted List' of desired transportation safety improvements, but when was the last time you had a look at that list? I admit, I hadn't reviewed the Most Wanted List in well over a year, so I recently visited the NTSB's Web site to have a look at the current version.

For your edification, here are the items on the current (2009-2010) NTSB Most Wanted List for Aviation:
Improve Oversight of Pilot Proficiency
  • Evaluate prior flight check failures for pilot applicants before hiring.
  • Provide training and additional oversight that considers full performance histories for flight crewmembers demonstrating performance deficiencies.
Require Image Recorders
  • Install crash-protected image recorders in cockpits to give investigators more information to solve complex accidents.
Improve the Safety of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Flights
  • Conduct all flights with medical personnel on board in accordance with stricter commuter aircraft regulations.
  • Develop and implement flight risk evaluation programs for EMS operators.
  • Require formalized dispatch and flight-following procedures including up-to-date weather information.
  • Install terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) on aircraft used for EMS operations.
Improve Runway Safety
  • Give immediate warnings of probable collisions/incursions directly to flight crews in the cockpit.
  • Require specific air traffic control (ATC) clearance for each runway crossing.
  • Require operators to install cockpit moving map displays or an automatic system that alerts pilots when a takeoff is attempted on a taxiway or a runway other than the one intended.
  • Require a landing distance assessment with an adequate safety margin for every landing.
Reduce Dangers to Aircraft Flying in Icing Conditions
  • Use current research on freezing rain and large water droplets to revise the way aircraft are designed and approved for flight in icing conditions.
  • Apply revised icing requirements to currently certificated aircraft.
  • Require that airplanes with pneumatic deice boots activate the boots as soon as the airplane enters icing conditions.
Improve Crew Resource Management
  • Require commuter and on-demand air taxi flight crews to receive crew resource management training.
Reduce Accidents and Incidents Caused by Human Fatigue in the Aviation Industry
  • Set working hour limits for flight crews, aviation mechanics, and air traffic controllers based on fatigue research, circadian rhythms, and sleep and rest requirements.
  • Develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program for controllers and those who schedule them for duty.
  • Develop guidance for operators to establish fatigue management systems, including a methodology that will continually assess the effectiveness of these systems.
The NTSB has the notation "Acceptable response,progressing slowly," on the runway safety and crew resource management (CRM) items. On all the other items is the notation "Unacceptable response," even though some of these requests have populated the Most Wanted List for quite a number of years. For example, the Runway Safety item has been on the list continuously since the list's inception in 1990 (although it was titled 'Runway Incursions' until November of 2007). CRM for Part 135 operators has been on the list since November of 2006.

Some of the fatigue-related items have been on the Most Wanted List since May, 1995, although air traffic controller fatigue was not specifically mentioned until November, 2007.

The newest item on the Most Wanted List for aviation, Improve Oversight of Pilot Proficiency, was just added in February of this year.

Since the NTSB has no regulatory power, it can only request these safety measures. It is up to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act upon the advice of the NTSB and create new regulations that would result in improvements to aviation safety.

Visit this page on the NTSB's Web site for more information about the Most Wanted List (including Highway, Marine and Rail issues, as well as Aviation).