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October 27, 2010 - NTSB Code-Sharing Symposium - Chairman's Opening and Closing remarks, Washington, DC
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board NTSB Code-Sharing Symposium, Washington, DC

Good Morning.  My name is Debbie Hersman and it is my privilege to serve as the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board.  Today, the Safety Board begins a two-day symposium on code sharing.  Thank you for joining us.

Many of you are familiar with the National Transportation Safety Board convening an open meeting, or what we refer to as a Sunshine Meeting, to consider the findings and probable causes of transportation accidents.  Today, we are convening for a different purpose, but one that is equally devoted to promoting safety in our air transportation system.  Our purpose today is to convene, in a symposium format, to discuss code-sharing. 

Code-sharing is a marketing arrangement in which one airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline, then sells and issues tickets for that flight the same way it would if it were one of its own flights.  Passengers may even board a plane with one airline’s distinctive paint scheme and logo, even though the flight is actually operated by a different airline.

Several recent Safety Board investigations have involved flights that were being operated under code-share agreements.  For example, the February 12, 2009, accident in Clarence Center, New York, involved Continental Connection flight 3407, a flight that was actually operated by Colgan Air.  Other investigations include the 2007 accident in Traverse City, Michigan, in which a Northwest Airlink flight was operated by Pinnacle Airlines; the 2007 accident in Cleveland, Ohio, in which a Delta Connection flight was operated by Shuttle America; the 2006 accident in Lexington, Kentucky in which a Delta Connection flight was operated by Comair; and the 2004 accident in Kirksville, Missouri, in which an American Connection flight was operated by Corporate Airlines.
As a result of these Safety Board investigations, culminating with the 2009 Colgan Air investigation completed earlier this year, the Board felt we needed to better understand airline code-sharing arrangements and their role in aviation safety, which we believe will benefit the work of the Safety Board in the future.  This symposium provides us with the opportunity to do just that. 

I would like to take a moment to recognize the family members of Continental Connection flight 3407 who are joining us in the Boardroom today.  The family members have been the tireless advocates for change in the commercial aviation industry and the key motivators behind legislation signed by the President this past summer that addresses critical safety issues, like pilot training and fatigue, among others.  Thank you for your courage and fortitude.  You are a visible reminder of why raising the bar on aviation safety is so important.

Unlike our Board meetings where we adopt accident investigation reports and issue safety recommendations, this symposium will not end with the Board issuing any recommendations, nor is it our intention to issue any new recommendations as a follow-on to this event.   Rather, over the next two days, we will have the opportunity to listen to and learn from others – including representatives of the airline industry, regulators from the U.S. and Europe, members of the travelling public, and family members who have lost loved ones in recent accidents.

In convening this symposium, the Safety Board set out three objectives: (1) to provide background information on the structures, present practices, and oversight of domestic and international code-sharing arrangements; (2) to provide insight into the operational and safety interactions between major airlines and their regional code-sharing partners; and, (3) to clarify the role that a major airline would have in the investigative and family disaster assistance responses to an accident involving a code-sharing partner.
Our panelists will provide insight into each of these areas.  They will discuss domestic and international code-sharing arrangements, provisions for family assistance, operational coordination and the sharing of information between partners, airline audit programs and regulatory oversight of code-sharing arrangements. 

I’ll be serving as the moderator, and I’ll be assisted by a panel consisting of John DeLisi, Frank Hilldrup, and Dave Helson from our Office of Aviation Safety, and Paul Sledzik and Debi Hall from our Transportation Disaster Assistance Division.  Ms. Eunice Bellinger from the Office of Aviation Safety is providing administrative assistance.

At any given time, there are over 5,000 flights in the National Airspace System.  And over half of them are being operated by the regional airlines.  As a result of the dramatic changes within the commercial aviation industry, we have seen the number of code sharing arrangements increase – both domestically and internationally.  This means that, today, the travelling public has more choices to fly than ever before; and, no matter where you are, you can connect to most anywhere in the world, probably in two stops or less.

But at the same time, we know that this myriad of relationships can be confusing to the traveling public.  Your ticket may say Delta Air Lines or United Airlines, and the plane at your gate may look like a Delta or United plane, but you might discover when you sit on the plane and look at the safety pamphlet, that a particular segment of your travel is being provided by Comair or Air Wisconsin, “operating as Delta Connection” or “United Express.” 

As we will hear in the presentations, this is becoming a far more common experience for many travelers.  In the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent review of airline traffic data, for July 2010, of the top ten airlines by scheduled enplanements, number 8 on the list was Sky West and Number 10 was ExpressJet – both so-called regional carriers. 

And the Regional Airline Association, in its 2010 annual report, reported that its members operated 52 percent of the nation’s schedule passenger flights.  This means that nearly 160 million passengers – almost one out of 4 – were carried by a regional airline.  As I noted when I spoke to the Regional Airline Association this past May, the regional airlines can no longer be considered the minor leagues; they have in fact achieved major league status.

In recent months, I have had the opportunity to visit with several of the major airlines.  And in those meetings, I asked questions about their code sharing arrangements so that I could learn more about the oversight and management of these code-share relationships.  And I have to admit that I was impressed with the level of coordination and information sharing that exists. 

Yet we need to know more.  We need to know what can be done by the airlines themselves to ensure that their partners are fully complying with the operational requirements as Part 121 carriers.  And we welcome this opportunity to learn from our colleagues about the variety of code sharing and alliance relationships that exist.

I would like to thank our colleagues from the aviation industry who are participating on our many panels.  I am particularly grateful to Jim May of the Air Transport Association, Roger Cohen of the Regional Airline Association, and Doug Lavin of the International  Air Transport Association, for their assistance in helping to provide speakers for the various topics that we are covering.

Today, we begin with an introduction to code sharing in the domestic airline industry.  We will hear about the oversight of these arrangements by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the view from the traveling public.  Industry representatives will also provide information on the operational and safety interactions between code sharing partners.

Then tomorrow we will examine international code sharing arrangements, again looking at the safety and operational interactions between the partners.  We will have additional panels that will provide information on the oversight of these arrangements, both from the perspective of the industry’s regulators, as well as the voluntary standards that the industry has adopted to police itself. 

It bears repeating that our overall focus is not to revisit previous accidents and incidents.  Rather, we want to make this symposium an educational and enlightening experience for the Board and the traveling public.  

For those of you watching in our audience or via webcast, we invite you to actively participate over the next two days by submitting questions for our panelists.  Here in the conference room, you’ll find index cards that you can use to submit questions.  Please raise your hand and Eunice Bellinger will come around to distribute cards and pencils and collect your questions. 

You can also submit your questions via email by using the address on the screen -- SYMPOSIUM @ NTSB.GOV.

And for those of you connected via Twitter, you can tweet your questions by using the hash tag #NTSBsymposium (no spaces).

Now, before we begin, let me ask, if you have not already done so, to silence your cellphones and Blackberries.  Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the Boardroom and the emergency exits.  In the event of a need to evacuate, there are two emergency exits located to the side of the rostrum, and there is the exit in the rear. 

Copies of the agenda are available in the lobby outside our Boardroom.  The agenda, along with the biographical information of invited participants, is also posted on the NTSB’s website. 

Because we have such a full agenda, we appreciate your cooperation in helping us keep on schedule, and ask that panelists respect time limits and keep discussions focused on the subject at hand, rather than slip into topics covered by other panels.

Finally, I want to take a moment to personally thank the NTSB staff for their tremendous effort in organizing and preparing for this forum. This symposium is a collaborative effort that involved many at the Board and to everyone involved, thank you. 

In particular, I would like to acknowledge the technical staff who spearheaded this effort and whose hard work and dedication made this symposium possible –  John DeLisi,  Dave Helson, Frank Hilldrup, Debi Hall, Erik Grosof, and Peter Knudson. 

Undertakings of this scope do not simply happen – they are the end product of many months of long hours and meticulous preparation and planning, including the administrative, technical, and press support.  Thank you all for your diligence in putting together this event.

We’re now ready to begin the symposium.