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Safety Study - Airbag Performance in General Aviation Restraint Systems - Chairman's Opening and Closing Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Safety Study - Airbag Performance in General Aviation Restraint Systems, Washington, DC

I want to thank my fellow Board members for their participation today. I'd also like to recognize the research team from the Offices of Research and Engineering, and Aviation Safety, as well as the NTSB field investigators whose work supported the study. Your collective effort made this study possible.

As explained today, airbags were not associated with any negative outcomes, and in some instances, protected occupants from more serious injury. To achieve the safety benefits, airbags must be used as designed and properly adjusted.

I encourage the General Aviation (GA) aircraft manufacturers to offer airbags as standard equipment, and aircraft owners to use the power of the purse and push for even greater availability of these injury preventing devices. Because airbag restraint systems employ attachment points that are similar to restraint systems without airbags, very few design change are needed to install them. Three thousand dollars for a two-seat retrofit may not be cheap, but when you consider it relative to the safety benefit, and to the cost of a new airplane – which can be more than half a million dollars – it is a good investment.

The safety study reinforces another lesson: restraint systems that consist of a lap belt/shoulder harness combination better protect the occupants of GA aircraft, than a lap belt alone. The NTSB analyzed over 37,000 single engine airplane accidents over a 30 year period – 1983 to 2008 – and found that an occupant who uses a lap belt alone is 50% more likely to be killed or suffer serious injury in a GA accident than if they wear a lap belt combined with a shoulder harness. Shoulder harnesses save lives. It's up to the FAA to ensure that all GA airplanes are retrofitted to include them.

Finally, based on this study, the Safety Board has changed our own data collection procedures when investigating GA accidents so that we better document information on the aircraft's safety systems. This data is the 'numerator.' We are asking the FAA to do the same for the entire population – the denominator – which will give us a better picture of the use and effectiveness of these safety systems.

John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, said that "If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even further." This thought underscores much of what we talked about today. The strength of this study is not only the findings and safety recommendations we adopted today, but the foundation it has built for future research and safety improvements.

We stand adjourned.