Investigation And Advocacy? NTSB Seeks Expanded Role In Aviation Safety

The original mission of the National Transportation Safety Board was to investigate aviation accidents. For many years now, the NTSB has been responsible for investigating all types of transportation accidents, from car crashes to train wrecks to airplane accidents. More recently, the NTSB took on the task of making sure Federal assistance got to the victims of aviation accidents and their families. The Chairman of the NTSB is looking to expand the responsibilities of the NTSB once again. He would like the agency’s role to include more formal advocacy when it comes to preventing safety hazards.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB have not always had the most positive relationship. The NTSB is an independent agency and regularly makes safety recommendations targeting the transportation industry, including in the field of aviation. The FAA has actual regulatory authority over aviation safety issues. It is not obligated to follow the recommendations laid out by the NTSB. There have been disputes, over the years, when the FAA has disagreed with or ignored a recommendation made publicly by the NTSB.

Recently, the relationship between the FAA and the NTSB has been strong. The two bodies are sharing data at unprecedented levels. Some in the aviation industry are concerned that data released privately to the FAA, under agreement, is being shared with the NTSB. Companies may be less likely to share data if they believe it will be used against them in a specific accident probe.

The head of the NTSB wants to nurture the growing bond and make sure the two agencies are on the same page when it comes to furthering the goal of aviation safety. He is well acquainted with the practices at the FAA, having worked at that agency for many years prior to joining the NTSB. Improvements in the flow of safety data can only benefit the public. Whether the NTSB and the FAA will be able to continue their collaboration may depend on just how much sway airline companies have over the process.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “NTSB Chairman Foresees New Air-Safety Role for Agency,” by Andy Pasztor, 15 June 2016

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