NTSB wants data trends to INVESTIGATE?

NTSB Core Values
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Sumwalt Sees Growing Data Role for NTSB

Board’s Job is to investigate, not regulate

Data sought is trend lines pointing to future

Restrict to Most Wanted List and then add-TRUST a BIG factor

Chairman Sumwalt made an announcement at the NATA Aviation Leadership Conference that the NTSB requires more data. Here are quotes of the Chairman, as reported by AINonline’s Kerry Lynch :

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt believes his agency will increasingly turn to data use for its safety activities but he does not expect it will have a role in monitoring individual operator’s data in real-time.

“We are trying to get more savvy on [data],” said Sumwalt during last week’s NATA Aviation Leadership Conference. “We have not been out there mining data in the past. We are going to be postured to mine data more to look for trends.” He noted other organizations are already engaged in such activity, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute, which examines trends for data and reports those findings in its Joseph T. Nall report.

He also believes access to data from flight data monitoring equipment is “very valuable” to the agency’s investigations, adding he is a strong proponent of flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) programs.

Having said that, Sumwalt added the NTSB will not mine for real-time data. “That is not what our congressional mandate is. That is not going to be a function of NTSB,” he said. “But from personal experience, I think data should be mined and monitored in-house.” He added that data-sharing programs such as ASIAS are helpful, but it is not the role of government to look at an individual operator’s data.

As the above amended NTSB poster reminds, the Board’s statutory authority is to “investigate”, 49 USC §1131 (a)(1)(A):


(1) The National Transportation Safety Board shall investigate or have investigated (in detail the Board prescribes) and establish the facts, circumstances, and cause or probable cause of—

(A)an aircraft accident the Board has authority to investigate under section 1132 of this title or an aircraft accident involving a public aircraft as defined by section 40102(a)(37) [1] of this title other than an aircraft operated by the Armed Forces or by an intelligence agency of the United States;

[also repeated in 49 CFR § 831.2 ]

The word “investigate” means to “carry out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts of (an incident, allegation, etc.) so as to establish the truth.”

The Chairman specifically mentioned that his purpose for gaining access to data is:

We are going to be postured to mine data more to look for trends.



Those are words appropriate for the regulate function as in:

Definition of regulate 

transitive verb


a : to govern or direct according to rule

b(1) : to bring under the control of law or constituted authority

   (2) : to make regulations for or concerning regulate the industries of a country

There is something fundamental in organizational behavior to accrete authority and this is not a new trend for the institution at L’Enfant Plaza:

NTSB issues a Safety Alert (or is it a NOTAM) on Fly-ins: redundant or needed repetition?

NTSB issues a Press Release involving Airworthiness Directive Issues



        How Data on Successful Flights can Solve Accidents

“…During the 777 investigation, British Airways provided data on about 1,000 previous Beijing-Heathrow flights flown by 777s. The data showed that the accident flight flew at a slightly higher altitude during slightly colder-than-normal temperatures. But what really stuck out was that the accident flight descended largely with its engines in idle – unlike most of the other flights.

Investigators starting focusing on how the engines behaved during long periods of idle in cold temperatures. And they found that an icy slush can build up on the fuel/oil heat exchanger, blocking fuel when the throttles are then increased. That finding led to new procedures and then a new design fix.

This accident probably could not have been solved just by looking at the wreckage and the flight data. Because the icy slush – the evidence — had melted long before investigators could find it. It was solved using data.

This is why the NTSB’s recent agreement is so important. Now we may be able to compare an accident flight with what occurred during similar, successful flights. This data gives us an important new tool for solving accidents that might not be readily solved just by looking at the accident wreckage and flight data.

That’s the statement of John DeLisi, Director of the Office of Aviation Safety, six years ago. He does an excellent job of retrospective use of the FAA data.

Perhaps, the difficult history of the FAA’s getting buy-in from the airlines, pilots and mechanics for the data-driven SMS, FOQA, VDRP. ASIAS, ASAS, etc. regime. The proposal of turning over data to the regulator, which holds enforcement powers over those certificate holders, met with major opposition. It took time to establish trust. Airports have not yet entered into this cooperation/ collaboration program.

To resolve such issues, the Board would be well advised to define the specific data bases, to limit the level of data aggregation to macro (not individual certificate holders), to exclude the Board’s use (not appropriate to use in specific investigation?) and/or to prohibit the availability of the data in the NTSB appeals of certificate actions.






It would seem that the obvious use of this trending data would be the Board’s Most Wanted List which does take a forward look. Start there and demonstrate trust?


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