We Are at a Crossroads; Will We Choose Safety?

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We experienced the safest year on record for airline travel in 2017. This was the result of decades of acting on important lessons learned at great cost, literally bought with blood, that we dare not forget and have to relearn. For years we have been making important investments in safety, and those investments have paid off by saving countless lives. But the remarkable safety record achieved in 2017 was also due in part to chance. Unless we continue to act, make safety investments, and proactively mitigate risks, we should not expect that we will see the next few years be as safe as last year.

Yet the current administration insists on rolling back large numbers of regulations, and they’re pushing hard to lower training requirements for pilots just starting out. Nearly every rule, every procedure put into place in the aviation industry over the last several decades was the result of an investigation into an accident that usually resulted in blood shed and lives lost. By acting on what we have learned, we have codified best practices and required them for everyone who flies. There has not been a fatal accident on a major U.S. airline in over 16 years. We dare not allow critical standards to be eroded, and pay the price in more lives lost. Rolling the dice, hoping you can continue to be lucky, is not an effective safety strategy and does not honor the people who paid the ultimate price for us to learn how to make flying safer.

This administration has said they want to roll back regulation to that of 1960. But no one should want to go to back to the level of fatal airline accidents of 1960, a year in which there were 90 air carrier accidents, 17 of them fatal, resulting in 499 fatalities. Nor should they want to go back to the 1960 level of fatal automobile crashes, or the level of deaths from foodborne illnesses, or of high levels of air and water pollution. There are hundreds of thousands of people alive today who would not be if we had not acted on what we’ve learned and improved safety across industries. Some of them might be your mother, your father, your brother or sister – your daughter or son, your husband or your wife. Why would we choose not to act on what we have learned in the last half century that has allowed us to save these lives? Why would we turn back the clock to the bad old days of way too many preventable injuries and deaths?

Sully Sullenberger
Sully Sullenberger
Captain "Sully" Sullenberger has been dedicated to the pursuit of safety his entire adult life. While he is best known for serving as Captain during what has been dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson," Sullenberger is a safety expert, speaker, and author. He currently serves on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee for Automation in Transportation, and still flies privately.

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