May 26, 2010 - National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman today told the leaders of the nation's regional airlines to find new methods to solve old problems.
Speaking before the Regional Airline Association national convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hersman congratulated the regional airlines for eclipsing the mainline carriers by operating over half of scheduled airline departures in the nation.
Hersman noted that, while regional airlines are becoming an increasingly important segment of the nation's airline industry, they also have come under increasing scrutiny. Although the rate of fatal accidents involving Part 121 carriers (encompassing virtually all scheduled airlines) today is half what it was just ten years ago, some recent high-profile accidents like the 2006 Lexington wrong runway takeoff crash and the 2009 crash on approach to the Buffalo airport have raised questions about minimum standards, professionalism, pilot training and qualifications.
Beyond the overarching tragedy of the lives lost in those two crashes, Hersman noted that the entire industry rises or falls on its safety record. "This fact could not have been clearer after the [Buffalo] crash, when all regional airlines suffered in the court of public opinion."
Hersman said that RAA member airlines need to explore new approaches to solve old problems like pilot fatigue, which has been on the Board's Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 20 years. As an example, she cited a trucking company that invested in sleep apnea screening, which resulted in a reduction in preventable crashes by 30 percent, and an incidental decline in monthly health care costs of almost $540.
Hersman reminded her audience that the Safety Board will host a symposium in October to discuss issues related to code sharing agreements between major airlines and their regional partners.
She closed by saying she is encouraged by the fact that, for the first time ever, RAA member airlines and their mainline counterparts are meeting this week to discuss better safety coordination. Invoking President Kennedy's quotation that a rising tide lifts all boats, Hersman said "Likewise, an airline industry that is safer tomorrow than it is today will lift all carriers to new heights."
The text of Chairman Hersman's speech may be found at www.ntsb.gov/speeches/hersman/daph100526.html.