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Thu, Apr 18, 2013

NTSB Chair Updates Senate Panel On Boeing 787 Investigation, Air Safety

Hersman: Commercial Aviation Has 'Exemplary' Safety Record, But Same Can't Be Said For GA

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman updated members of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee on the status of the NTSB's Boeing 787 battery fire investigation and warned against complacency in aviation safety after one of the safest periods in U.S. commercial aviation during a hearing held Tuesday. Hersman said that since the February 2009 Colgan Air flight 3407 crash near Buffalo that killed 50 people, some 3 billion passengers have traveled safely on the U.S. airlines.

"Despite the lack of accidents in commercial aviation, we cannot be complacent," Hersman (pictured)  said, "The absence of accidents does not mean our work is done. Safely defying gravity thousands of times each day requires constant vigilance."

Hersman said the NTSB continues to investigate a number of incidents and accidents, notably the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 auxiliary power unit lithium-ion battery fire at Boston's Logan International Airport on Jan. 7.The investigation identified multiple, internal short circuits in cell 6 of the battery that started a thermal runaway and progressed to neighboring cells.

On March 7, the NTSB released an interim factual report and hundreds of pages of related documents. Last week, the NTSB held a two-day forum that explored lithium-ion battery technology in transportation. And, on April 23 and 24, the NTSB will hold an investigative hearing to focus on the design and certification of the 787's battery system.

Hersman also said that while commercial aviation has had an exemplary safety record recently, the same can't be said for GA. "General Aviation accounts for nearly 1,500 accidents each year, resulting in nearly 500 annual fatalities," Hersman said. "What is especially tragic is that we see the same types of accidents over and over again, and so many are entirely preventable."

GA safety is on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, and is part of the NTSB's education and outreach to decrease these accidents, and last month the safety board met to examine some chronic problems in general aviation. The NTSB issued five safety alerts to pinpoint hazards and provide practical remedies.

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