Release #07.038
July 26, 2007

Long-time Safety Risks Contributed to Comair 5191 Accident
ALPA Challenges NTSB to Move Beyond “Probable Cause”

Today’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Sunshine Meeting underscored many of ALPA’s longstanding safety concerns, but the proceedings fell short in taking the “system-wide” approach needed to create a safer aviation industry.

Despite highlighting many of ALPA’s longstanding safety concerns, the National Transportation Safety Board Sunshine Meeting held yesterday fell short of taking the “systemwide” approach needed to create a safer airline industry.

“Our sympathies go out to all those affected by this terrible accident,” said Capt. Terry McVenes, ALPA’s Executive Air Safety Chairman. “It is incumbent on all of us to find out why this accident happened and, by doing so, to help prevent a similar tragedy in the future.”

ALPA is encouraged by the NTSB’s in-depth analysis of the complex factors that led to the Comair 5191 accident. The recommendations issued yesterday will go a long way toward enhancing aviation safety. However, the NTSB continues to rely on a single “probable cause” approach to accident investigation.

“The experienced pilots of Comair 5191 believed that they were on the correct runway, and the investigation revealed that this error was not unique to our crew,” said Capt. J.C. Lawson, the Comair MEC chairman. “Rather than placing blame, our industry must address all the reasons why the pilots were led to believe what they did. The safety net that should have prevented this accident failed. The effort to fix blame only distracts us from finding the real solutions that will make aviation safer.”

Earlier this year, ALPA submitted safety recommendations to the NTSB in areas including the NOTAM system, runway signage and markings, technology to improve pilots’ situational awareness, and airport construction and lighting. Many of ALPA’s recommendations were reflected in the NTSB’s recommendations issued yesterday.

ALPA’s submission pointed to the fact that the Lexington airport was not required to install the most effective taxiway and runway sign markings because it is not among the 73 busiest U.S. airports.

“If the crew could have clearly identified the wrong runway, they would not have used it,” McVenes continued. “We applaud NTSB’s recommendation today that mandates budget-friendly fixes, such as painted holding position markings at all airports.”

ALPA, in its submission, also underscored the need to capitalize on existing technology that could provide pilots with more-accurate information about where their airplane is located on the airport. A moving-map display that includes “own-ship” position could provide an extremely valuable additional layer of safety in all airline cockpits.

“Many cars on the road today provide drivers with a GPS display that gives detailed location information, yet most airplanes flying in the skies overhead do not give their pilots the benefit of the same type of information,” Lawson said. “Thanks to today’s recommendation, we are well on the way to getting that information.”

Although the NTSB, in its deliberations, identified shortcomings in the NOTAM system, the Board did not find that these deficiencies were a factor in the accident. “Airline pilots need more-accurate, timely, and user-friendly information in the cockpit to ensure they know all they can about issues that could affect their flight,” McVenes said. “The Comair 5191 pilots did not receive critical taxiway-closure information because of an antiquated system that dates back to the teletype. The FAA needs to redesign the NOTAM system and provide clear direction on how they are to be provided to airline dispatchers so that airline crews can be certain they receive a complete briefing.”

ALPA commends the NTSB for highlighting airline industry worker fatigue as a serious safety threat in a recommendation issued earlier this year, but the Association was disappointed that this critical issue did not play a larger role in yesterday’s meeting.

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ALPA CONTACTS: Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell, Molly Martin, 703-481-4440