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Remarks at the National Business Aviation Association 2011 Opening General Session, Las Vegas, NV
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Business Aviation Association 2011 Opening General Session, Las Vegas, NV

Thank you, Ed (Bolen). It's great to be here with all of you who do so much for business and, importantly, for aviation safety.

That's why I'm here today... to challenge you to bring business aviation safety to the next level. This year, general aviation safety and pilot professionalism are both on the NTSB's Most Wanted List.

Here we are in the middle of the baseball pennant races and in the middle of Las Vegas with so many opportunities to wager on sports! Let me call on an aviator and baseball great - always a safe bet - to help me talk about business aviation safety.

In 1941 - seventy years ago - Ted Williams batted .406. He was the last major leaguer to bat over .400.

In 1941, Williams was at the top of his game. And, look at corporate aviation: you are at the top of your game. Last year, the corporate fatal accident rate was: ZERO. As good as it gets.

In 2010, there were 14 fatal accidents across all of business aviation with 25 fatalities. So, there are still safety issues and challenges to be met before all of business aviation is at the top of its game.

How can business aviation improve its safety performance - and make sure that each year you have as good a season as "The Kid" did in 1941?

How about taking two lessons from Ted Williams and following his lead on data and training?

Data. Williams was relentless when it came to data. He quizzed everyone. He sought out the great hitters and grilled them relentlessly. More than reading box scores, he studied every pitcher. He learned what pitches each pitcher could throw ... how well he threw each of them... when he threw certain pitches ... and what the pitcher did when he was in trouble.

We should all be such good students. You, too, in your flight operations should study the data for clues. Take a lesson from the 2008 Learjet accident in Columbia, SC, which killed two pilots and two passengers. One of the findings was inadequate safety analysis by Learjet and the FAA. Safety analysis - using data - is key to a professional flight department and to an effective safety management system.

You should study data about your fleet, your markets, your operations, and learn from accidents and incidents, from safety reports, and from your colleagues to help you improve safety.

I'm hearing great things about C-FOQA. I understand Hewlett Packard's flight department has already seen a return on investment from its use of C-FOQA on its fleet of G-5s. Rick Walsh reports that thanks to C-FOQA, HP has improved takeoff profiles, has better approach criteria, as well as stablilized approaches at San Diego, among other improvements.

Ted Williams used data to understand the pitchers he would face. And, in the new movie "Moneyball" we get to see Billy Beane using data to take one of baseball's underdogs with a tiny payroll to the big time - the playoffs five times in eight seasons.

You, too, need data to be successful. You need it to analyze, understand, and mitigate risk. And, with C-FOQA, you can also make those improvements that will gain you operational, as well as safety, efficiencies, just as the airlines have done.

Now, what about training? Ted Williams was a constant and consistent trainer. He was always practicing his swing. Williams would swing anything that resembled a bat and swing some things that didn't - broomsticks, rolled up newspapers, pillows in the Pullman car as he traveled from game to game. On game days, he'd get to the clubhouse early and spend hours swinging a bat. After games, he often took extra batting practices.

Training is so important. Too frequently, at the NTSB, we see the tragic results of the lack of adequate and appropriate training. The crew of the Hawker Beechcraft that crashed in Owatonna, Minnesota, in July 2008, killing the crew and six passengers, would have benefited tremendously from better CRM training.

We hear a lot about "train like you fly, fly like you train." Those are not just words for an inspirational poster. And you at NBAA are working on this with tools such as the single-pilot flight operations manual template produced as a result of your single-pilot safety stand down. I understand your safety committee is developing a toolkit for operators to use in selecting a training center and on what an NBAA recommended program should look like.

These are great steps. Yet, like everything in business - the commitment starts at the top and follow through is essential.

Skill and experience. Data and training. Commitment and focus. All of these sustained Ted Williams through more than 7,000 at bats in nearly 2,300 games for a lifetime average of .344.

That same focus can help your flight department's averages, too.

Stephen Jay Gould wrote that Ted Williams's 1941 season was "a lesson to all who value the best in human possibility."

You are here this week because you value the best. You want to keep on improving. Take these lessons from number nine and make your flight department the best in human possibility.