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ARTICLE: Safety Board Wins More Access to Flight Data


The NTSB was created by Congress to do two basic things—to investigate accidents and incidents of all modes of transportation and pipelines as well as to adjudicate appeals from certain FAA decisions. For years, the NTSB has complained that the FAA was not adopting the Board’s recommendations as quickly as the oversight institution felt appropriate. While the directionality of some of these initiatives has been laudable, the FAA (unlike the NTSB) is part of the Administration and must process its rules through the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. The Board Members and staff also fail to understand that crafting complex rules that must be clearly understood by all of the individuals/companies which must comply with these words and by the FAA employees who administer them takes thought and time.

The NTSB’s first iteration was to create its Most Wanted List, its prioritization of what the FAA Administrator should be doing. Its next level of moving toward an executive agency with policy making authority was a series of thematic hearings—GA safety and the like—at which experts testified about policies and procedures that should be implemented.

The FAA has gained a great deal of credit in its creation and use of data which allows it to take proactive actions. The information, obtained voluntarily from the certificate holders (some under the FAA’s promise that the information will not initiate enforcement actions – not without some controversy – has facilitated both FAA action and certificate holders’ self-initiative to great benefit to aviation.

As noted by this respected Wall Street Journal writer, for reasons not clear to him, the FAA Administrator seems to have further acceded to the investigatory organization seemingly insatiable appetite for more presence, if not authority, in the regulating of aviation safety. It is theoretically possible that one of the data packages sent by the FAA to the NTSB will include information relevant to a certificate holder’s appeal. More importantly, the trend lines created by these data bases are intended to create future fixes; the NTSB’s statutory authority is retroactive, accident investigation and certificate appeals of past issues.

Redundancy in government is a theme of criticism from a number of political scientists and politicians. This FAA-NTSB agreement should create a great PhD thesis topic. Perhaps more tellingly, it would bring the Chair of the NTSB to the Hill to explain why more data is needed, while at the same time the Board asserts that it needs more personnel/budget to meet its existing statutory mission. Accretion of power without clear Congressional mandate is not a popular theme on the Hill these days.

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