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NTSB forum on Pilot and Controller Professionalism - Chairman's Opening and Closing remarks, Washington, DC
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) forum on Pilot and Controller Professionalism, Washington, DC

This has been a remarkable last three days.  This forum has provided an interesting and informative venue for all of us to learn about what is happening in the industry.  As I said when we began this forum on Tuesday, we want to be forward looking.  This forum has stimulated an excellent discussion on industry best practices and areas where we still need to make improvement. 

I think the challenge for all of us who are a part of the aviation industry is to take some of the lessons learned from these discussions and to begin implementing best practices across the board.  We should not wait for another accident or incident to make these improvements.  Now is the time to focus on raising the bar on professionalism – now is the time to learn from the countless professionals on the flight deck and in the radar room or control tower, who are working with passion, precision, and professionalism, to focus more on what is working and less on deviations and disciplinary actions.

Over the last three days, nearly 50 industry professionals have contributed their expertise and knowledge to help us learn more about these issues.  Your contributions and commitment to aviation safety are significant.  On behalf of the Board, thank you for your time and contribution to this endeavor.

Although our forum has focused on the pilots and controllers, many of the solutions and ways to improve the overall safety of our industry are not limited to these professionals.  Raising the bar on professionalism extends to other safety critical personnel in aviation, including maintenance technicians, flight attendants, and ramp operations personnel.

As I mentioned at the opening, because of time constraints we simply were not able to accommodate all the requests to participate in the public forum.  I encourage any individual or organization who wishes to submit written comments to do so.  We have already received a number of submissions which has been very helpful.

You may submit your materials by email to:  Guidelines for providing input are on our website page for this forum.  Input received by the close of business, June 3 (two weeks from today), will be entered into the public docket for this safety forum and made available on the NTSB's website. 

Within the next week, all of the presentations made during the last 3 days will be available on our website. 

We will also archive the video proceedings of the forum, which you can view on our website for the next several weeks.

Our Technical panel will be reviewing all of the information exchanged at this forum and will prepare a written summary.  That will also be available on our website. 

It is remarkable how this forum has helped to raise awareness across the board – throughout the industry, the media, and the general public.  While this is a good start, we still have much work to do.

One thing that strikes me is that defining professionalism is somewhat elusive.  We heard a number of panel members say that they can see it in actions; the difficult part that remains is defining professionalism and creating a culture of professionalism at all levels. 

That is what I think the Board will be focusing on over the weeks and months to come.  FAA Administrator Babbitt has said that professionalism remains a top priority for him and the FAA – but that you cannot necessarily regulate or legislate professionalism.  As the Board moves forward, we will share our lessons learned with the Administrator and other industry leaders.  This has to be a collaborative effort – on the part of all of us in the industry – whether we are the regulator, the employer, the flying public, the media, or the individual pilot or the controller. 

I look forward to working with my colleagues here on the Board, with Administrator Babbitt, and with all of our industry colleagues to raise the bar on professionalism.

On the first day of the forum, Ms. Eunice gave me a piece of chocolate and after I opened it, I noticed that printed within the wrapper was a saying.  Perhaps it was a bit of serendipity, but it read:  “Attitudes are contagious.  Is yours worth catching?” 

I think the same thing can be said about professionalism.  We know that of the thousands of flights that take off and land each day, the pilots, controllers, and ground crews are working to meet the highest standards of professionalism.  It is our collective hope that this forum will help to encourage that spirit of professionalism – to make it contagious throughout the industry.   

I will close by saying that I am so impressed that we ended this three-day forum today with about the same number of attendees that we started with.  I have heard comments and commitments in this room that have made me realize that many leaders and professionals won’t be waiting for an NTSB recommendation or FAA regulation to make changes to their selection, training, or voluntary disclosure programs. 

A pilot watching our forum from a hotel room during a layover shared this thought with me last night:  “A new generation of American airmen is out there.  How they meet the challenge ahead is, in part, up to those of us today.  What they do, and can do, may ultimately decide our future.”  And I would agree.  We must all take responsibility for the future of aviation safety and play an active role in shaping the environment and expectations with what we have learned.  That will be our legacy.

Again, on behalf of my fellow Board members, my thanks to the NTSB staff who have worked tirelessly to produce this most informative three-day forum.

This concludes our forum and we stand adjourned.

View the page for the Forum here