President Obama’s Nomination of Acting NTSB Chair Hart to be Chairman is good for Aviation Safety

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The President has nominated current Vice Chairman, Christopher A. Hart to serve a term as the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (see below article). It is an extraordinary affirmation of that organization’s technical competence and of Mr. Hart’s accomplished record.

The NTSB has a very broad jurisdiction and an extremely demanding mission. It has a staff of career professionals with competence in all of the modes within its authority and in all of the technical aspects of its investigation. The final decision makers are appointed by the President and are specifically drawn from political parties. At least three of Board Members must be selected on the “basis of technical qualification, professional standing, and demonstrated knowledge in accident reconstruction, safety engineering, human factors, transportation safety, or transportation regulation.” (49 USC §1111). .

That is a more rigorous standard than the requirements to serve as FAA Administrator. It is not surprising, in that the Members must review the technical recommendations of the staff in open meetings and need to challenge the judgments made before they are incorporated in the determinations of “probable cause”. They are not allowed to ruminate in private, but must express their technical questions in a very public forum.

Chris Hart holds both undergraduate and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering. He holds a law degree and practiced that profession as a member of the civil bar. Equally relevantly, Mr. Hart is licensed pilot with commercial, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. His career includes important positions with the FAA and NHTSA plus a previous term with the NTSB. His expertise in all of the subject matters which come before him is unequalled within his organization. It is evident that he is an interesting, multi-faceted person.

The future of aviation safety regulation is using Metadata to focus the regulator’s and the operators’ attention on the issues which should be addressed before they become problems. Chairman Hart, in his FAA incarnation, was the prophetic instigator of FOQA and then GAIN (Global Aviation Information Network) which are the precursors to today’s suite of number collection systems/predictive analyses. Sometime in the future there will be an NTSB review which will examine one or all of these systems. Chris’ knowledge of and insight into these programs will be very useful to the Board.

President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Hart to chair the NTSB affirms the technical nature of this safety organization by placing someone so well qualified to lead it. This action also recognizes that all of the years which Chris has devoted to his profession merits such trust.

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