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Public Hearing - Air Show / Air Race Safety - Chairman's Opening and Closing Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board, Public Hearing - Air Show / Air Race Safety, 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. Let me introduce my colleagues: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.

Before we begin, I'd like to recognize the victims, as well as the family members and friends of those who lost their lives at last September's air races in Reno, Nevada, and also the family and friends of the five air show performers killed this year at events across the country. You know firsthand the tragedy of loss and how important it is to learn all we can and prevent future crashes.

This hearing is intended to identify what can - and is - being done to improve safety at air show- and air race-related events. We are not here to focus on the specifics of any one crash or to identify probable cause - as we do when the Board meets to review accident reports. Rather, we will discuss generally safety issues relating to air shows and air races.

Thank you, all, for joining us today. The objectives for today's hearing are:

  • One, to raise awareness of air show and air race safety;
  • Two, to educate ourselves and the public on current safety regulations, protocols, and practices related to the planning and operation of air shows and air races;
  • And, three, to identify lessons learned and best practices to assure greater safety for spectators and performers alike.

Air shows and air races have a long and storied history. The first air show took place more than one hundred years ago in Paris in 1909. The first air races were that same year in Reims, France. Twenty years later, air racing crossed the Atlantic with the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio.

Over one hundred years ago, aviation caught everyone's imagination.

And today, there is still romance and excitement with defying gravity. And, that's what is captured - and so captivating for the 10-12 million spectators who attend the 300-plus air shows every year and the annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show in Reno, Nevada, each September.

Over the years, air shows in the United State have enjoyed an extremely safe record. The performers understand that there are risks by flying at speeds up to 700 mph, just under the speed of sound, 100 feet above the ground ... and often upside down.

Both 2009 and 2010 saw zero air show fatalities in the U.S., but last year, tragically, five performers lost their lives at air shows and the crash in Reno took the lives of a racer and 10 spectators. As I said, we are not here today to receive testimony on the circumstances of the crash in Reno or the NTSB's 11 other open air show-related investigations, but to identify more broadly the procedures and protocols that mitigate risks for both the performers and the spectators at all air shows and air races.

Well before Icarus, man dreamed of flying, but even the ancient Greeks understood that humans and their inventions have limitations that must be respected. Air shows and air races exemplify the most exciting and breathtaking aspects of manned flight by joining the human desire to soar with extraordinary machines. But as we week to push the limitations, we need to ensure that we do not push the boundaries of safety - for the pilots or the spectators.

Let's honor the spirit of flying by learning from the extensive, collective experience gathered here today and enhance aviation by ensuring that lessons from accident investigations are well-learned.

At this time, I'd like to recognize my colleague Member Sumwalt, who has done an excellent job coordinating today's hearing and working closely with staff on developing the agenda. Member Sumwalt.