National Transportation Safety Board
Off the Rails: the Norfolk Southern Train Derailment and its Aftermath
On February 3, 2023, Ohio was suddenly and unexpectedly rocked by an accident whose long-term consequences are still unfolding. A Norfolk Southern-operated freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the village of East Palestine. This accident, which poses severe threats to the environment and safety of the local community, has raised significant concerns about the environmental implications of train accidents and the safety of transporting hazardous materials through residential areas.
Unsafe Landing Practices at Detroit Metro Airport
A whistleblower recently called attention to unsafe landing practices at the Detroit Metro Airport. The whistleblower, a veteran air traffic controller, has helped uncover dangerous flaws in the airport’s instrument landing system (ILS). This system emits radio waves that help guide approaching aircraft to the center of the runway. Air traffic control recordings attest to the danger, as many pilots have voiced complaints about the flawed system upon landing. Nevertheless, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to take immediate corrective actions. The U.S. Special Counsel recently notified the President about this lapse in safety, but it remains to be determined whether officials at the Detroit Metro Airport have repaired or replaced the faulty system.
Self-Driving Cars: The “Cars of the Future” Impacted by Regulatory Restrictions
On Friday, October 28, 2017, the National Highway Traffic-Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) announced they are striving to deregulate strict regulations currently slowing production on self-driving cars. NHTSA is seeking to deregulate in an attempt to increase the production and deployment of driverless cars. In the Rulemaking Report released by the Department of Transportation (“DOT”), NHTSA seeks comments to “identify any unnecessary regulatory barriers to Automated Safety Technologies, and for the testing and compliance certification of motor vehicles with unconventional automated vehicles designs, especially those equipped with controls instead of a human driver.”
Viewing Aviation Regulations Through a Lens of Safety
A basic understanding of aviation regulations helps to understand some of the most basic requests airlines make of their passengers. Air travel is hailed as one of the safest modes of transportation not only because of the advancements in technology and the training that the aviators go through before they get a seat in the cockpit, but also because of the many regulations that bind it. Understanding the basis of a particular regulation is necessary to elucidate why the requirements exist, although the pressures of travel on passengers may make them seem arbitrary or unwarranted.
Airways Circumvent Inefficient Regulation with Inefficient Workaround
A 2010 regulation heightened the in-flight hour requirements for ‘First Officers’ (i.e., copilots) from 250 hours to 1500 hours. Advocacy for this regulation came from the families of Colgan Air Flight 3407, a fatal jetliner crash which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined was caused by pilots failing to respond to warnings that the airplane was about to stall. However, years into the implementation of the 1500 hours rule, the regulation has shown only questionable increases in flight safety. Critics argue that debatable increases in passenger safety do not offset the sharp increase in costs associated with pilot training. Instead, airlines have figured out a way to circumvent this questionably inefficient regulation by sacrificing commercial efficiency.