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Testimony of Albert H. Prest
Vice President of Operations
Air Transport Association
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the National Civil Aviation Review Commission. My name is Al Prest and I am vice president of operations at the Air Transport Association. I am also a former airline captain for a major airline, where I flew in both domestic and international operations while holding various management positions.
Today however, the topic is Flight Operations Quality Assurance-or simply, FOQA. Simply stated, FOQA is the use of aircraft flight recorder information for purposes other that investigating an accident. Everyone in this room, and certainly the members of the Commission, are familiar with the "black boxes" that become the center of attention during all aircraft accident investigations. FOQA however, does not require an accident. It's a program that permits safety analyses and data driven decisions to be made before the accident and before the incident. Inflight monitoring of normal operations can provide enough information for an airline to accurately assess the effectiveness of training programs and flight crew operating procedures. And let me emphasize, that's without any damage to the airplane or loss of life.
FOQA is not new. Although the term Flight Operations Quality Assurance was first used by the Flight Safety Foundation about five years ago, electronic data gathering and analyses has been used effectively in the United States since the mid 1960's. TWA developed a program that permitted them to analyze literally millions of approaches and landings using flight data recorders. Their analysis resulted in modified ATC procedures and revised airline operating policies and procedures. Prior to the TWA program, American Airlines experimented with an airborne integrated data system on their BAC-111 fleet. In fact, I am told that primitive barometric altitude recording devices were used in DC-3's shortly after the war. The "big war." The data gathered by these recorders was used to refine the design standards of the altitude hold feature of the autopilot and for other operational purposes. So, when you hear stories about flight recorder analysis programs and their European beginnings, you'll know better. FOQA is a good idea and it started here.
For all of the potential benefits associated with FOQA, programs are slow to develop and airlines are reluctant to make the necessary commitment. Why? Equipment cost and program implementation costs are certainly a consideration, but our industry knows that safety is cost effective and spending money on programs that enhance safety, is not a hard sell. FOQA is part of a family of safety tools and some airlines are concentrating on other safety initiatives.
We lost the lead however, and we can no longer afford to be "also rans" in trail the field in the important
There are roadblocks to FOQA implementation and that's what I would like to focus on for the remainder of my time.
Can regulations be substituted for trust? You can write regulations to require reporting of certain events. Some already exist. But they'll never get us any closer to zero accidents than we are right now. Administrator Hinson was right when he said, ..."you can't regulate to zero accidents."
You can regulate data protection however, and that's exactly what we would like to see happen. You can also go one step further and develop legislative protection against public disclosure of safety data obtained during the discovery process. We'd like to see that too.
Support for data protection must come from the Administration, in the form of a recommendation, to develop an appropriate legislative initiative aimed at insuring that safety data is used in a manner which best accomplishes our goal of zero accidents.
This industry already has much to be proud of and our accomplishments need to be part of the record. In the last 20 years the number of airline passengers has doubled. During the same period, the number of fatal accidents has reduced by more than 50%. When plotted, these values form curves. David Hinson referred to these curves in engineering terms calling them: "elegant curves." They are elegant, but they represent the past. And we all agree that this industry must do better in the next 20 years than to cut today's accident rate in half. That is simply not good enough.
To make significant strides in safety, the steering committee believes that we must make greater use of cooperative problem-solving techniques. Our six workshops introduced a model process, and it's up-and-running. That process created an Aviation Safety Plan and that plan needs to be fully endorsed and followed. The steering committee has agreed to stay in place and is committed to providing continued guidance to the workshops and work closely with FAA and others in government. The workshops themselves will remain in place as well, and they can be challenged further and, if necessary, additional workshops can be added. The framework is there.
I've tried to utilize my time today to emphasize the need for a cooperative approach to safety. Whether we call it a partnership, a team, or shared responsibility -- it doesn't really matter. We were formally challenged by the Administrator to achieve a goal of ZERO ACCIDENTS. And the pursuit of that goal is a shared responsibility of all government, industry, and labor organizations and of each member of the aviation community. What matters is not what we call it, but that we are commitmed to a philosophy. Together, we can meet - and beat - the safety the challenges ahead.