NTSB Chairman Addresses Air Traffic Controllers <


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NTSB Chairman Addresses Air Traffic Controllers

Daniel Guevarra

March 24, 2010 - Washington, DC - In an address to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) in Orlando on Tuesday, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman lauded controllers for their role in keeping the number of runway incursions low while challenging the Federal Aviation Administration to hasten the pace of its efforts to improve runway safety.

Attributing the decline in runway related incidents and accidents in part to "robust procedures, safe designs, and well-trained and alert controllers and pilots," Hersman said that "we still have a lot of work to do," and that the FAA needs to move more aggressively to lower the risk of runway accidents.

Hersman chaired the NTSB's February meeting in which runway safety was again voted onto its Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements where it has been since its inception in 1990.

The Safety Board's recommendations to the FAA includes providing immediate warnings of probable collisions and incursions directly to flight crews in the cockpit, requiring specific ATC clearance for each runway crossing; requiring 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; and requiring a landing distance assessment with an adequate safety margin for every landing.

Citing an ongoing investigation of an incident in which a 767 landed on a taxiway in Atlanta in October, Hersman said that the NTSB took a strong interest in the event "because we want to know what led a professional flight crew to mistake a taxiway for a runway, whether the controllers could have detected the misaligned final approach to landing and intervened, and whether there are technological tools that can be used to prevent such incidents from ever occurring in the first place." Although no one was injured in the incident, Hersman said that "if this event had resulted in a fatal collision, there would be - far and wide - immediate and understandable calls for changes."

Hersman also cited human fatigue as an area that the Safety Board has become particularly focused on, saying that "We are seeing fatigue as a causal or contributing factor in numerous accidents across all transportation modes." The NTSB has made recommendations to the FAA to set working hour limits for flight crews, aviation mechanics, and air traffic controllers, and has asked the FAA develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program for controllers and those who schedule them for duty.


Recently, NATCA and the FAA established a working group to collaboratively address the human fatigue issues that the NTSB has identified. Hersman noted the significance of this positive step by the leadership of both organizations and called it a very encouraging development. 

Concluding with an invitation for air traffic controllers to participate in a three-day forum on pilot and controller excellence that the NTSB will be holding in Washington in May, Hersman emphasized the value of learning from the numerous examples of superior job performance by controllers. "Through our work we are very good at finding out what went wrong, but frankly, it is just as important to know what is going right, because we want to replicate that throughout the entire national airspace system," she said.

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