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NTSB begins air safety forum

mellett.JPG Jazz musician Coleman T. Mellett died in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

The National Transportation Safety Board began a three-day "Professionalism in Aviation" safety forum Tuesday at its L'Enfant Plaza headquarters in Washington.

The forum, which is open to the public, is focusing on success stories, such as US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who ditched his Airbus A320 into New York's Hudson River last year -- and saved dozens of lives. But the impetus for it is a series of high-profile incidents in which the conduct and judgment of pilots and controllers have been called into question.

Last October two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot the Minneapolis airport by more than 100 miles because they were engrossed in a complicated new crew-scheduling program on their laptop computers. In March an air traffic controller at New York's Kennedy Airport was suspended after he allowed two children to radio instructions to several pilots.

"So many in the industry recognize this issue of professionalism is a real challenge," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. "How do you encourage people day in and day out to do the right thing every time when people aren't watching?"

Pilot and air traffic controller unions say there is no professionalism problem, and say such instances are rare.

Federal Aviation Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt, in speeches and congressional testimony, has called on pilots and controllers to create a professional atmosphere in cockpits and radar facilities and not to tolerate rule-breaking by colleagues. He began the campaign last summer in response to the crash of Continental Express Flight 3407 near Buffalo, in which all 49 people aboard and a man on the ground were killed.

The safety board said the crash occurred after the plane stalled because the pilot pulled back, instead of pushing forward, on a key piece of safety equipment. But they also cited a series of errors and unprofessional conduct by the pilot and first officer leading up to the accident.

Among those planning to attend the forum are family members of the victims of Flight 3407, who have been campaigning for improved pilot training, an increase in the experience required to become an airline pilot and new work rules so pilots don't suffer fatigue while flying.

"Our focus from day one has been to do everything possible to ensure that the mistakes of Flight 3407 are never repeated, and this safety forum will be just one more way of accomplishing that," said Kenneth Mellett of McLean, in a statement. Mellett lost his son, Coleman, a guitarist for the Chuck Mangione Band, in the crash.

Hersman is chairing the forum. Ten panels composed of experts from the corporate world, government and academia will discuss developing and maintaining professionalism in pilots and air traffic controllers.

-- Associated Press and staff reports

Events begin at 9 a.m. each day. Here is the agenda:

Tuesday, May 18
-- Welcome and Opening Remarks
-- Keynote Presentation
-- Screening and Selection Methods and Their Role in
Developing Professional Pilots
-- Structured Development of Professional Pilots
-- Developing Excellence and Professionalism in Air
Traffic Controllers Through Screening, Selection, and

Wednesday, May 19
-- Developing Professionalism and Excellence Through
Operator Training
-- Shared Responsibility to Reinforce Professional
Standards in Pilots
-- Shared Responsibility to Reinforce Professional
Standards in Air Traffic Controllers
-- The Captain's Role in Ensuring Professionalism

Thursday, May 20
-- Ensuring Effective Pilot-Controller Communications
-- Ensuring Excellence Through Data and Information
-- The Role of the Regulator in Ensuring Professionalism
in Aviation
-- Closing Remarks

Complete information is available here.

The NTSB is located at 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW. The forum will be in the Board Room and Conference Center.

By Michael Bolden  |  May 18, 2010; 11:07 AM ET
Categories:  Airports , Safety , Transportation Politics  
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