NTSB expresses concern about sterile cockpit violations

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Recent non-fatal accidents involving US carriers are causing the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to question if larger issues exist in the flight deck environment that require more scrutiny.

Board chairman Deborah Hersman during a speech today at the Regional Airline Association convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin said while the Colgan Air flight 3407 crash of a Bombardier Q400 in February 2009 garnered significant attention, NTSB is seeing other incidents that are triggering questions about sterile cockpit rules being routinely violated.

NTSB next month plans to consider a report examining one of those incidents, a runway excursion of a Continental Airlines Boeing 737 at Denver in 2008.

"We'll have more to say on that after the Board adopts its finding and recommendations," says Hersman.

She also is expressing concern about the American Airlines 737 crash last December in Jamaica. The aircraft landed long and ran off the end of the runway, braking into several parts. Stressing to the audience that lessons learned from the Colgan investigation apply to all air carriers, not just regional airlines, Hersman says accident investigations are not "the time for polite words".

Hersman says she stands by a comment she made during the Colgan hearing that it felt like the movie "Groundhog Day".

"What I meant was that the issues we discovered in our investigation were nothing new. We've long known about them, and in fact NSTB has long-standing recommendations on many of them," she explains.

Hersman also acknowledges a big problem the industry faces is "the slowness and unpredictability of the regulatory processyou should be able to look to regulations for guidance on best practices, yet the fail time and again to keep pace".

NTSB's chairman says she's "disappointed to hear that the flight and duty time notice of proposed rulemaking is now scheduled to be published in September".

Noting industry is facing a third delay in the proposed rule's release in the USA Hersman says: "What started out of the blocks as a record-setting 200 metre dash has now begun to look more like a steeplechase event."