NTSB Targets Incursions, Pilot Fatigue

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The NTSB released its annual “most wanted” list of aviation safety improvements on Thursday and among the most urgent recommendations is that the FAA address runway incursions. “It is time to do something before we have to investigate an accident that is catastrophic and explain to the families that technologies are out there to begin to prevent this thing from happening,” NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker told a news conference Thursday. Although the FAA has had a program in place to reduce incursions for several years, the NTSB still considers its response “unacceptable” and notes that there have been 24 incursions this year. The NTSB says there need to be systems to directly warn pilots in the cockpit about impending incursions (like the one tested in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this year) rather than the systems that now warn controllers in the tower. The NTSB also took aim at pilot and controller fatigue. The board says it found at least six flights where pilots fell asleep at the controls, including one in which both pilots nodded off on a Frontier Airlines flight from Washington to Denver in 2004. They were awakened by a frantic air traffic controller when they ignored descent instructions. The board says there have been at least 10 fatigue-related accidents it can identify, killing 260 people, and it’s calling on the FAA to come up with new crew rest requirements that more practically address the fatigue problem. Other items on the most-wanted list are icing research, better cockpit resource management requirements, better flight data and voice recorders, and the elimination of fuel vapors in airliner fuel tanks, the only classification in which the board acknowledged an acceptable level of progress.