House OKs Speier’s plan for FAA low-speed study

The House today agreed by voice vote to pass an amendment by Rep. Jackie Speier that would requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to study whether existing commercial aircraft should be required to install low-airspeed voice warning systems.

PLANE CRASH AT SFOThe amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act is in response to the Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed on its final approach to San Francisco International Airport on July 6. Initial reports found low airspeed was a crucial factor in this crash.

The FAA will have one year to complete this study and make a determination if both new aircraft and existing aircraft should be required to incorporate a verbal warning system.

“Pilots make life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “It is vital that planes have alerts that are instantly recognizable, clear, and unambiguous. After numerous incidents and nearly a decade of concerns, the FAA continues to drag its feet on the question of low-airspeed warning systems.”

Jackie SpeierSpeier said low airspeed has been an air-safety concern for almost 20 years: The FAA’s Human Factors Team concluded in 1996 that flight crews needed better warnings that the aircraft was reaching low speeds. After the 2003 crash that killed U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended the FAA study whether to require installation of low-airspeed aural and visual alert systems. And after the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, N.Y., a recommendation was reissued in 2010 on installation of low-speed warning systems.

“We have plenty of evidence that giving pilots this tool could have – and will – save lives,” Speier said. “The FAA needs to translate this evidence into action.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    If Action Jackie has been so hyped on this subject, why didn’t she push Congress before? Or is this the first time anybody noticed?

  • Josh Richman

    Isn’t it possible she became “hyped” by a deadly plane crash in her district?

  • JohnW



  • David Heekin

    21,000 hours commercial flt. If I got five knots low on airspeed, I would expect to hear “Airspeed!” from non-flying pilot or jumpseater. If I EVER got ten knots slow, I would expect to hear from standards or my chief pilot, because I would have been reported for dangerous actions. You don’t need another “Bitching Betty” warning, you need others to speak up.

  • dave

    We already have GPWS (ground Prox Warning System) in place. example of the call outs over the speaker for a 777:
    Two tone siren

    The aircraft in question is not an N registered aircraft, so go and make more idiotic regulations, the problem is the training of overseas pilots and the culture…change that…not more beurocratic mumbo jumbo

  • Charles Bray

    @#5 Dave, You have hit the nail; squarely on the head. The aircraft was doing all it could to save itself, the pilots didn’t listen. The aircraft hit the wall, IMHO, because the glide slope was inop and the crew were not using good cockpit resource management.

  • Larry Esser

    This sounds like something worth looking into anyway. It is surprising how jet aircraft can get slow without a pilot knowing. In this case, not to excuse the Asiana crew from all blame, it seems they may have got trapped by a “gotcha” that has to do with FLCH and the autothrottle. They didn’t think they needed to watch the airspeed because they didn’t know that the autothrottle is kept in idle with FLCH mode active. Main thing is, if there were a warning about decaying airspeed it would keep something like this from happening.

  • JohnW

    New approach lights at SFO. Very interesting. You’ll have to copy the link to your browser or type in the whole thing.


  • JohnW

    Sorry, you can just click on the link.

  • …sad. It would be better if congress waited until the NTSB and the FAA completed their report/recommendations before spending money on a study. I can’t imagine Jackie is any sort of expert in aerospace or that she has a constituency which includes many industry professionals.

    I agree with several of the previous commenter’s. The issue would be better handled with a human factors procedure rather than a verbal warning.

    Proper training and consistency are more effective than a canned message. Plus, if we continue to automate procedures like auto landing on ILS runways, we’re not going to have experienced crews available when there is a real emergency requiring human intervention.

  • Rasley

    In the military, beyond finding fault with the actions (or rather inaction) of the flight deck crew, what eventually comes out of the NTSB findings could be boiled down to supervisory error on the part of the company.

    If the supervisory pilot (i.e. check airman) was a newbie to the game, training not just another pilot, but a newbie to the airframe, then the company (specifically the training department) definitely needs to take a hit on this one.

  • These systems are already installed. WTF is she talking about. Low speed stick/yoke shakers have been installed for years. Another politician not letting any tragedy go to waste without promoting oneself interests.

  • CapnMike

    Exactly, Steve. #12

    The real problem with nearly all of our gubmint is these know-nothings making absurd, wasteful yet binding rules. Jackie offers a ‘solution’ in search of a problem, hence she looks the fool.

    The Captain has full responsibility for the aircraft, crew and all the lives et.al. aboard. Then, no one in D.C. takes responsibility for anything, so how could we expect anything more intelligent than this?

  • John Marc

    Govt throwing more money away in a “study” to justify more bureaucratic jobs. Govt needs an aural warning:

  • Sam Stoterau

    Jackie Speier is a complete moron. As the Director of Training for an airline I am getting sick and tired of politicians capitalizing on tragedy; trying to create new legislation and/or new regulation to attempt to legislate and regulate out stupidity, ineptitude, and incompetence. Unfortunately it is unseemly to point the finger at a deficient flight crew and use the words incompetent or inept. So rather than address the root problem (I think this is a CRM/TEM concept????) we try to make stupid, inept, and incompetence acceptable. Sorry for the piss and vinegar but the world will reap the sorry benefit of this backward thinking.

  • JohnW

    I’m genuinely impressed to see that we seem to have several knowledgeable aviators commenting on the subject, I generally respect Jackie Speier but have no opinion as to the merits of her proposal. However, I would note that she is a Democrat in a hyper-partisan Republican-controlled House. In spite of that, her amendment was agreed to by a voice vote. All she proposed is requiring the FAA to study whether existing commercial planes should be required to add those systems. From what I’ve read, the FAA has been notoriously behind the eight ball on these things — with the NTSB often making safety recommendations that the FAA ignores.