Torqued: Former NTSB member to tackle safety issues in new column

 - December 19, 2007, 11:09 AM

A few months ago AIN published an article that highlighted not only my NTSB career but also some of what I have done with a good portion of my working career. Not long after that article was published, AIN editor Nigel Moll called to ask whether I would be interested in writing a monthly column on various subjects of interest to both the pilot and maintenance communities.

My first reaction was not to get tied down preparing and writing articles for a monthly publication. I know all too well that the deadline always hangs over your head, but when I thought of the opportunity that a monthly column offered, the decision was not as clear as it initially seemed.

While I was a Board member (from 1994 until June this year), I was both an advocate and a critic of actions we had taken within our aviation system. I was not only critical of others. I admitted in public that I had made some of the mistakes, both in judgment and in execution, that I was identifying as errors others had made.

I began to realize that a regular column in AIN presented the opportunity to share the knowledge I have gained in my airline maintenance and NTSB roles, so as to prevent others from experiencing the unimaginable pain of an aviation accident. In some ways, writing a column on lessons learned is a logical progression from serving on the NTSB. So with that short phone conversation, I was back to facing deadlines.

That conversation also got me thinking about the specific areas and subjects that would provide the substance for a regular series of articles. Drawing on some recent work, I first singled out airport ramp safety as something that affects all of us who use FBOs. A couple of years ago I came across some ongoing work looking into aircraft ground handling accidents and incidents. Because of my years working in the Part 121 airline system, I was well aware of the airlines’ major problems with ground damage– the cost of which is staggering.

What the then-current (two years ago) data showed was that the problem had spread across all facets of ramp operations and across company lines. In some of the accidents it was only luck that prevented a disaster. The data also indicated a growing problem with refueling, not only with equipment operation but also with the completion of the task in accordance with proper procedures.

As a result of this information, I started a group that involves a large and growing list of aviation people and organizations to try to develop solutions to these problems. This column will provide an opportunity to share the results of the work with a larger segment of our industry and provide a way to get the word out about how to implement improvements. That alone is enough to justify my commitment to a monthly deadline.

Another area that I know needs attention is the communication disconnects that compromise many areas of operations, particularly the link between the pilot and the mechanic. I have realized for quite some time that this is a problem in need of attention, but in my position at the NTSB I had no way to address these issues. I believe this venue affords me that opportunity.

To discuss these issues, as well as a host of others, I need your help: I need to hear your thoughts on these and any other issues that you believe will benefit from being aired in this forum. Please e-mail me at

I hope you will help identify our problems and become part of the solutions. Thanks for reading.