No Holiday Hangover for NTSB

For an advisory/investigative agency, the National Transportation Safety Board is getting a lot of work done this month. The agency has issued new recommendations to reduce fire risks on cargo aircraft and to put U.S. Coast Guard military and civilian personnel under the same drug and alcohol testing requirements that apply to merchant seamen.

In five accident investigations from 2007 to 2011, the Coast Guard did not adequately test its own personnel who were in safety-sensitive positions, according to the board, which noted merchant seamen are required to provide a breath sample for alcohol testing within two hours of an accident, but no such timeframe for a test is provided for Coast Guard military personnel, and civilian personnel aren't required to submit to an alcohol test at all. The blood alcohol limit for merchant seamen is .04 percent, but the Coast Guard has not set a limit for its own personnel.

"The Coast Guard also does not specify a timeframe for post-accident drug testing for its military personnel, while requiring all merchant mariners to be drug tested within 32 hours of an accident," according to the board's announcement.

The cargo aircraft fire recommendations ask the Federal Aviation Administration to require active fire suppression systems in all cargo containers or compartments aboard cargo aircraft. This recommendation cited a UPS aircraft fire in Philadelphia in 2006, a UPS flight that crashed in Dubai in 2010, and an Asiana Cargo flight that crashed off the coast of South Korea in 2011; both of the latter two crashes resulted in the deaths of the two crew members on board and remain under investigation. The announcement said in the Dubai crash, the crew had just 2.5 minutes from the time the fire was detected until aircraft systems began failing.

"These fires quickly grew out of control, leaving the crew with little time to get the aircraft on the ground. Detection, suppression, and containment systems can give crews more time and more options. The current approach is not safe enough," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said Nov. 28.

Captain Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association (UPS pilots), issued this statement in response to the NTSB recommendations: "No pilot group is more aware of the tragedy that can result from in-flight smoke and fire than the IPA. We thank Chairman Hersman for her leadership in identifying the causes of these hazards, and the Board’s recommendations on preventing, detecting and suppressing fires on cargo aircraft."

Posted by Jerry Laws on Nov 28, 2012