Lawsuit Demands FAA Action on ‘Most Wanted’ Improvements

 - April 1, 2009, 7:46 AM

The National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation (NADA/F) has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to order the FAA to implement safety recommendations from the NTSB concerning runway safety and flight-in-icing conditions.

“As a direct result of the DOT and FAA refusal to adopt the safety recommendations, hundreds of lives have been needlessly lost in ‘déjà vu’ disasters that are repeat occurrences of known aviation safety flaws,” the lawsuit claims. Both items have been on the NTSB’s list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements” for at least 13 years and the Safety Board has labeled the FAA’s action as “unacceptable response.”

NADA/F asked the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions that force the DOT secretary to produce a schedule for implementation of the NTSB recommendations within 90 days of the court order.

According to the lawsuit, the DOT and the FAA “continue to shirk their duties to the traveling public” by failing to timely evaluate NTSB recommendations; failing to timely accept or reject NTSB recommendations concerning known aviation safety hazards that–if implemented–would reduce or eliminate accidents; and failing to implement the safety regulations that would reduce the likelihood of transportation accidents similar to those investigated by the NTSB.

Because the Safety Board pinpointed and developed preventive measures for these safety flaws, the failure of the DOT and FAA to implement these measures is in contravention of their congressional mandate and breaches their duty to the traveling public, the lawsuit contends. DOT and FAA spokespeople declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Long-awaited Improvements
NADA/F noted in its filing that the NTSB, in its first list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements” issued in September 1990, called for “immediate action” to reduce the possibility of runway incursions, the risk of ground collision or other life-threatening improper operations on the airport surface area.

Despite the fact that “Improve Runway Safety” has been on the most-wanted list since 1990, in 2007 the Government Accountability Office issued a report that said air travelers face a “high risk of a catastrophic runway collision” because federal regulators have lost their focus on reducing the potential for such accidents. NTSB reports have documented at least 105 lives lost and millions more put at risk, because of the defendants’ and unidentified former FAA Administrators’ failure to carry out their statutory duties, the lawsuit charged.

The NTSB added flight-in-icing conditions to the most-wanted list in 1997 as “Reduce Dangers to Aircraft Flying in Icing Conditions.” That followed by four years the 1994 crash of an ATR-72 while in holding pattern for O’Hare over Roselawn, Ind., in icing conditions. With that accident, which killed all 68 people on board, supercooled water droplets became part of the aviation lexicon.

According to the Safety Board, the icing conditions exceeded the de-icing capability of the airplane. The safety agency determined that the FAA certification requirements for demonstrating aircraft performance in icing conditions were inadequate and outdated.

The NADA/F lawsuit noted that in addition to the Roselawn crash, a regional airliner crash in Detroit in 1997 with 29 fatalities, and a business jet crash in Pueblo, Colo., with eight deaths in 2005 also were caused by flight into icing. In all three of the accidents, the NTSB found that FAA inaction was a contributing factor in the crash.

The lawsuit was filed February 24, about two weeks after the crash of a Colgan Air Q400 outside Buffalo, N.Y. The accident is under investigation by the NTSB, but what is known so far is that the crew had observed “significant” ice accretion on the windows and wings before the eventual upset that killed all 49 on board and one person on the ground.

NADA/F’s Web site notes that the group was founded by air crash survivors and victims’ family members to raise the standard of safety, security and survivability for passengers and to support victims’ families.

At press conferences in Newark, N.J.; Washington, D.C.; and Buffalo, former DOT inspector general Mary Schiavo called for an end to “déjà vu” accidents. “We are not saying to the FAA ‘you have to enact everything,’ but the law requires that you act,” she said. “Letting the [NTSB recommendations] languish for over a decade is not a proper response.”