National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) acting chairman Robert Sumwalt said complacency is the biggest threat to safety the aviation industry. Speaking on a panel at the Air Line Pilots Association International Air Safety Forum July 20, Sumwalt said the issue is on the minds of NTSB investigators while conducting crash probes.

“Unanimously, we are well aware of that … we had several hull losses at my airline [US Airways] over a period of time and the management over the next few years were very aware of all of those things,” Sumwalt said. “But as time evolved, the people that were running the company weren’t the same people that were there during those bad times. We’ve had an excellent run of good, safe flights over the last number of years [but] the people leading the airlines … weren’t around back in those dark days. I worry about complacency in the industry overall.”

Sumwalt’s Canadian counterpart, Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada chair Kathy Fox, said the biggest risk facing the industry is “trying to identify what your next biggest risk is.”

“There are still a lot of issues out there that we think are well known to the industry—unstable approaches that are contingent on landing, runway overruns, runway incursions—a lot more can be done to resolve those issues,” Fox said. “It will be a challenge … your next accident is in your data. The question is how we mine that data and find those risks.”

In a separate panel on threats to aircraft, ALPA unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) expert Jim Pala, described “the unbelievable growth in hobbyists of UAS” as the major safety threat to the industry.

“The internet is just littered with video of people who do not understand the risk that they’re subjecting airliners to, and where they’ll fly [their UAS],” Pala said. To mitigate the risk, Pala referred to FAA’s registration regulation, “and unfortunately that was just overturned in court, so that will have to be corrected at the next [FAA] reauthorization bill.”

Pala said FAA data on airliner sightings of UAS has tripled this year from 2016.

“There’s a UAS near-midair collision formon the FAA [Near Mid Air Collision System] website, so when you are flying out there and you do see a UAS please report it because we need the data,” Pala urged the audience of pilots.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com