List of NTSB 'Most Wanted' Safety Improvements Languish

The status accorded the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to its "Most Wanted" list of recommendations ranges from "unacceptable response" to "progressing too slowly." None of the board's aviation-related recommendations received a green...


The status accorded the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to its "Most Wanted" list of recommendations ranges from "unacceptable response" to "progressing too slowly." None of the board's aviation-related recommendations received a green light in terms of the basic Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) response or the alacrity with which the board's recommendations are being implemented.

At a Nov. 15 hearing to update the situation, Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker said, "We are encouraged by the progress that we have seen in the acceptance rate of our recommendations." However, he was referring to the total. On its "Most Wanted" list for aviation, the NTSB has 22 recommendations, and they have either been rejected outright or are receiving a slow roll in terms of implementation. The FAA's response may reflect a combination of industry resistance, dispute over the need, and maybe even a concern for the cost.

Indeed, there was some discussion among board members about whether the resistance to the recommendations is politically or financially motivated. However, the cost issue may be a canard, if one considers amortization over a period of years. Many of the "Most Wanted" recommendations have languished for nine years or more, and the cost of implementation, stretched over that period of time, is small. To be sure, accidents avoided is a huge cost saving for the industry.

Herewith, the box score on the "Most Wanted" recommendations:

Stop runway incursions and ground collisions of aircraft. "There is an urgent need" for improved warning direct to aircrews, said Sandy Rowlett, an NTSB staffer. This need is based on three near collisions in the past six months, where the FAA's airport movement area safety system (AMASS) did not provide timely warning to air traffic controllers, who would then pass warnings along to aircrews. Either the AMASS was turned off to avoid false alarms in the rain, or it was not configured to provide alerts for intersecting runways. A good example of this was provided June 9 at Boston's Logan International Airport, when an Aer Lingus A330 and a US Airways B737 came frighteningly close on takeoff. A total of 336 people were aboard the two airplanes.

In his statement to investigators, the first officer on the US Airways jet said, "After passing V1, I noticed an Aer Lingus A330 rotating just prior to the intersection and stated 'keep it down' and pushed the control column forward to prevent the captain [the pilot flying] from rotating the aircraft. The Airbus passed overhead our aircraft with very little separation, and once clear of the intersection the captain rotated and lifted off towards the end of the runway."

Rowlett said AMASS was installed without the capability of detecting impending collisions on intersection runways "to get something" deployed to curb runway incursions. The FAA designated Boston the test facility on 11 Nov. for assessing the intersecting runway software for AMASS. However, Rowlett pointed out that AMASS warns controllers, not aircrews, and that when this recommendation was made in 2000, the FAA was asked specifically to develop a system "that would provide direct warnings to flight crews, thus providing pilots with additional time to react to potential hazards."

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