See also Flight Safety Information February 4, 2014 – No. 026
The National Transportation Safety Board is an unusual and frequently misunderstood governmental institution. An article published in ProPilot attempted to characterize the people and processes of this arcane federal entity. That perspective caught the attention of Member Sumwalt, ATP/CFII/FE. Airbus A320, King Air 350,Boeing 737, Fokker F28, Fokker 100. He is a frequent subject here; may posts have commented favorably on his insights, knowledge and qualifications/experience.
The Member makes five important rebuttals. All bear repeating. All are absolutely right:
1. NTSB does not function as a political body- yes, each Member has an R or D next to his or her name, but there is absolutely no indication that any of their decisions are influenced by any politics
2. NTSB is involved with all aircraft accident investigations- the Board has limited resources and cannot investigate every accident or incident. Even when one of its personnel is unable to attend, the FAA sends an investigator and that report is shared with the FAA. It is true that the Board’s criterion includes recognition that if the accident involves a high profile person, there will be some level of NTSB coverage. The obvious reason why is that the public expects to hear more about such events than other problems.
3. Party system ensures a thorough and transparent investigation- an accident may involve issues with a pilot, a controller, an airport, a mechanic, a flight attendant, an airplane, a set of regulations, among other things. No one independent expert can have command of all of the disciplines, science, engineering and knowledge needed to determine what happened. Without the party participation, the expertise would be “one off” and be equally subject to their pre-existing perspectives. The information produced in the course of this segment of the process is transparent.
4. Board members do not abdicate responsibility- there may be criticisms of the Board’s review process of FAA certificate action, but Board members’ failing to participate in the “appeals” is not one of them.
5. An obligation to release factual information- this segment is a not so subtle attack by the author of the competence of Chair Hersman. Member Sumwalt corrects all of the ProPilot misimpressions.
Though the reason for the Rebuttal and Clarification is unfortunate, the Sumwalt explanation provides some useful insights into the NTSB process. While the NTSB is transparent, some of its inner machinations are opaque to the average reader. The linked article sheds some light on an important process.