WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has released its annual list of “most wanted” transportation improvements, but for the first time in recent memory none of the priorities relate specifically to reducing commercial aviation hazards.
Today’s announcement reflects years of steady gains in airline safety, with the last fatal crash of a U.S. scheduled passenger flight occurring nearly seven years ago. Some aviation experts said it was the first time in decades that commercial air-safety wasn’t explicitly singled out in the agency’s annual rankings as one of the high-priority areas for needed improvements.
The 2016 list emphasizes various potential dangers that cut across all modes of transportation, including fatigue-related accidents, the need for enhanced occupant protection and hazards related to distractions from cellphones or other portable electronic devices. Other topics focus on specifics technologies such as automated braking or collision-avoidance systems on cars, trucks and trains.
The safety board also urges continued emphasis on eliminating dangers of drug or alcohol abuse in different forms of transportation, and called for greater use of crash-resistant recording devices, sometimes including video cameras, inside airliner and helicopter cockpits; in the cabs of trucks and buses; and on board ships.
Some of the latest recommendations touch on overall aviation safety, including one item that calls for enhanced efforts to reduce what are called “loss of control” accidents—often stemming from pilot confusion—affecting small private aircraft.
But highlighting many years of steadily improving safety statistics for passenger airlines in the U.S., the safety board didn’t embrace a single topic focused entirely on raising the bar for commercial aviation in this country. Last year’s list included a topic calling for commercial pilots to strictly follow flight-safety procedures.
Over the years, the NTSB’s annual wish list was studded with needed improvements for airlines, carriers and aircraft makers. But as airline safety statistics have continued to improve in the U.S.—as well as in nearly every region of the world—the safety board’s “most wanted” improvements have increasingly shifted to target other transportation arenas. Improving the safety of urban mass transit systems, railroads and helicopters, for example, gained greater prominence.
In its 2016 version, the NTSB also features the importance of various highway safety technologies, from greater adoption of automatic braking and collision-avoidance hardware on cars to adaptive headlights to systems designed to help drivers avoid dangerous lane changes.
Deborah Hersman, a former NTSB chairman and currently president and CEO of the National Safety Council, praised the safety board for adding highway collision-avoidance technology back to the 2016 list. “Our cars are safer and smarter than ever before, yet we continue to lose 35,000 people each year in car crashes,” Ms. Hersman said in a statement. The NTSB’s list, she said, amounts to “a roadmap guiding us toward zero deaths on our roads.”
Created in 1974 as an independent safety watchdog, the NTSB has no regulatory or enforcement authority. But it has issued some 13,000 safety recommendations over the years, and its views are closely followed by regulators, operators and lawmakers.