Passing of an Aviation Safety Pathfinder: Dr. Tom Accardi

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The FAA is a highly visible federal agency. All too often (but now far less frequently), the public becomes aware of its work when there is an airplane accident or an ATC glitch. Dr. Tom Accardi was the quintessential quiet, competent public servant, who doing his career greatly enhanced aviation safety. Unfortunately, aviation will no longer benefit from Tom’s talents as he recently died.

His aviation career began as a corporate pilot and then he shifted to the Part 135 sector flying for Altair Airlines. He joined the FAA in 1977 as an air traffic controller in Pittsburgh, PA. After a couple of years controlling airplanes, Tom took a job as an Aviation Safety Inspector where he applied his past experiences to his new job at the FAA.

His aviation acumen propelled him up the management chain. He moved to New York where he was an air carrier/general aviation specialist. His resume shows his progress– Manager, Safety Analysis Branch (’86-’87) and then Flight Standards Division Manager (’87-’90).

Washington beckoned and there he was the Deputy Director of Flight Standards (‘90 -‘91) and then ascended to the Director position (‘91 -‘97 ). There, Tom initiated some of the most important data-based safety programs. Specifically, Accardi was involved in the establishment of these seminal programs:

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These were the precursors and necessary building block to the FAA’s backbone safety programs—SMS and SASO—which are partially responsible for the recent excellent safety record. Tom’s leadership placed the Flight Standards organization in a position to use data to make the field’s diminishing human resources more effective.

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Following his passion to teach and mentor others, Tom moved on to Charlottesville, VA as a senior Faculty Member at OPM’s Federal Executive Institute. He taught “Leadership for a Democratic Society” (the picture of him teaching cost benefit principles is from his term at Charlottesville, and the building shown is the institute).

Tom moved from that position to the FAA Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, OK where he was the Director Aviation System Standards. That organization was responsible for the immense challenges of

  • designing instrument flight procedures;
  • operating and maintaining thirty specially equipped aircraft (turbo-prop and turbo-jet) that perform flight inspection of 8,500 U.S. navigational facilities and 20,000 instrument flight procedures throughout the United States; and
  • performing flight inspection around the globe for the Department of Defense and under contract for NASA’s space shuttle operations and the National Science Foundation’s research in Antarctica.

During his tenure at the Center Tom initiated the development of the NextGen ATC flight procedures.

tom33Tom then, in 2011, moved back to the private sector, as the Senior Vice President, Objectstream, Inc. His assignment, as usual, was on the leading edge of aviation technology. His job there was to develop corporate strategy and to establish strategic business partnerships in support of his company’s aviation safety, navigational engineering and Unmanned Aerial Systems areas. That’s a dynamic arena in which Dr. Accardi thrived. His job included participating on the Oklahoma Governor’s UAS Council as an advisor.

While in Oklahoma, Tom earned a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Applied Educational Studies, Aviation & Space at Oklahoma State University.  He taught executive leadership and aviation safety since 2006 at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Dr. Tom Accardi may not be a household name among the general public, but if one asked the FAA who one of the key executives for today’s data-sharing systems and NextGen implementation, the answer would have to include Tom.  The things, which he accomplished during his federal civil servant career, created foundations for generations of aviation safety. His death is a big loss for the FAA and all involved in our profession of striving to improve flying.

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1 Comment on "Passing of an Aviation Safety Pathfinder: Dr. Tom Accardi"

  1. Terry Stephens | August 18, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Reply

    When Tom, following his retirement from the FAA, worked as a contract instructor teaching Safety Management Systems he and I team taught several SMS courses. He was one of the best instructors I have known, and his incredible background and experience added heavy credibility to our message. His manner was unfailingly quiet and supportive. He will be missed.

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