Post Southwest Flight 345 Case Accident Investigation, NTSB Objectivity when it reviews the FAA Pilot Sanctions?

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ARTICLE: Friction Escalates in Air Crash Probe


082713bAndy Pasztor is one of the most read aviation journalists and his most recent column highlights statutory structural tensions between the two federal organizations—one independent and one part of the Executive Branch. The FAA has the job of a regulator- writing and enforcing the rules of the air, while the NTSB is an overseer, able to sit, observe and comment/critique.

The catalyst for the article is the role of social media. Tweets by the airlines officials, manufacturers, NTSB staff, the news media armed with their FAA and NTSB alumni and the public have flooded the information sphere with details about the event. The NTSB criticized Boeing for its releases on the B-787 lithium battery issue. In the initial stages of the recent Southwest Flight 345 B-737 hard landing at La Guardia, the NTSB tweeted the descent rate, the fact that the Captain took over controls, etc. and ALPA expressed some concerns about such releases.

Pasztor focuses on the NTSB investigation and the FAA investigation– the Board trying to determine the probable cause and the FAA seeking to determine if enforcement action should be taken. Both bodies move with a high level of urgency because safety enhancement is the ultimate goal of both. Statutory language precludes the FAA from using the CVR/FDR in any enforcement action; so they must find alternative proof. Thus, the rush/conflict for evidence.

As usual, Pasztor has identified a difficult problem, but his story misses the next chapter. The FAA will likely seek to take action against the license(s) of one or both pilots and based on the facts could order the suspension or revocation of the relevant ATP(s). It is certain that the captain and second officer will take legal action to reverse the FAA’s termination of his ability to earn a living.

Where does an airman go to seek legal redress of the FAA’s license action?

The NTSB is the appeal authority; so the tension identified in the investigation becomes even more problematical when the issue is raised to the full Board. By that time the investigation of Southwest Flight 345 will have been completed and finding(s) of probable cause will have been made. If the Tweets by the NTSB provide any forecast of what the Board will find, pilot error will likely be included in the list of what went wrong.

Having found that the cockpit crew was at fault, how will the Board adjudicate without prejudice (in its legalistic meaning) the issues concerning whether FAA sanctions as to the airmen certificates were lawful?

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