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NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy Talks Safety and Myth-Busting

The Honorable Jennifer Homendy was sworn in as the 15th chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in August 2021 after being nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Homendy has served as the agency’s 44th board member since 2018. For more than two decades she has worked tirelessly to support the critical safety mission of the NTSB, the independent federal agency that investigates crashes in all modes of transportation, determines the probable causes, and issues recommendations to improve transportation safety.

Q: With the FAA NPRM to expand safety management systems (SMS) beyond airlines, what’s the NTSB view regarding the effectiveness of SMS scalability in smaller operations?

The proposed rule is an excellent step forward and we’re glad it extends SMS to all Part 135 operators. At the same time, we’d like the final rule to contain more detailed guidance around scalability. We want smaller operations to be able to “right size” their SMS program — and do it in such a way that the program can grow along with operations.

I’ll take this opportunity to bust a myth among some smaller operators who believe SMS isn’t for them: If you transport passengers, your operation can benefit from an SMS program, period.

But that myth is partly why we recommended the FAA create an inventory of scalable SMS strategies for operators of all sizes to reference.

Most importantly, every operator should implement an SMS program now. Don’t wait until there’s a requirement.

“I’ll take this opportunity to bust a myth among some smaller operators who believe SMS isn’t for them: If you transport passengers, your operation can benefit from an SMS program, period.”

Q: What has the NTSB learned about accidents involving circling approaches and runway incursions/excursions that could benefit GA operations?

We continue to investigate accidents involving unstabilized approaches or operational noncompliance, often leading to loss of control or a suboptimal touchdown on the runway. I implore pilots and flight crews to remain vigilant and never hesitate to perform a missed approach whenever necessary. The NTSB recently issued a Safety Alert specific to risks associated with circling approaches, especially when they involve maneuvering at low altitude or low airspeed.

Situational awareness is also key when addressing runway incursions, the most dangerous of which appear to be on the rise, as well as excursions. Though we’re still investigating many of the recent close calls, I can say this: In one case, catastrophe was averted because a flight crew took immediate action when they realized something was wrong.

“I implore pilots and flight crews to remain vigilant and never hesitate to perform a missed approach whenever necessary.”

Q: Business aviation’s focus on moving from reactive data analysis to a more proactive risk reduction requires greater amounts and sources of data. How is the NTSB fueling a more proactive risk analysis by helping to gather that data?

All segments of the aviation community must constantly strive to make our skies safer, that includes NTSB. Data is a vital tool to help us do just that. That’s why we regularly call for more robust flight data monitoring, for example, and it’s why the agency is on a multi-year journey to transform how we deliver critical safety information. Our goal is to empower as many stakeholders as possible to draw safety lessons from our substantial accident data and investigations.

Q: What lessons can the NTSB share that could be helpful as advanced air mobility (AAM) is introduced into the NAS?

That’s easy: safety first. That may sound overly simplistic, but it means ensuring that safety is the driving concern when new technologies, systems and operations are being developed and introduced — not an afterthought. Like building in cockpit voice and image recorders and flight data monitoring systems as the aircraft is being designed, not added on afterwards.

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