Page 11 - Interpilot Magazine Issue 1 2017
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the ntsb: independent by design 11


Independent by Design

by chAIrmAn chrISToPher A. hArT

FIndIng The rIghT AnSwerS
IFALPA SenIor TechnIcAL oFFIcer InTroducTIon The NTSB is the United States’ transportation accident investigation
by cAPTAIn ArnAud du bédAT agency. Even pilots, who are familiar with the NTSB, might not fully
understand the extent and the limitations of our mandate. One important
The term “Accident Investigation Authority” was first idea both limits and strengthens the NTSB. That idea is independence.
incorporated into ICAO Annex 13 in 1981. Although many Next year, the NTSB marks its fiftieth anniversary. In 1967, Congress
States have adopted it in their Regulations and Legislations, established the NTSB as an independent agency placed within the U.S.
USOAP reports show that there is still some misunderstand- Department of Transportation (DOT) for administrative purposes.
ing as to the meaning of this term. In an effort to bring some Then in January 1975, Congress reestablished the NTSB outside of
clarification, ICAO sent some proposals in State Letter the DOT. Congress reasoned that “ ...No federal agency can properly
2013/55 of 19 July 2013, which eventually led to the perform such functions unless it is totally separate and independent from
adoption by the ICAO Council of Amendment 15 to Annex any other ... agency of the United States.”
13, on 22 February 2016. The Amendment, strongly Congress was right.
supported by IFALPA, introduces not only a definition of The NTSB investigates accidents in transportation, determines their
“Accident Investigation Authority” but also provisions for its causes, and makes safety recommendations to prevent them from
independence through the following text in paragraph 3.2: happening again. We make these recommendations to anybody who can
“A State shall establish an accident investigation authority that improve safety.
is independent from State aviation authorities and other That includes airlines, manufacturers, labor unions, and trade
entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of associations. It also includes state and federal government agencies, such
an investigation.” This new Standard, along with other as the U.S. aviation safety regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration
provisions in the Annex, emphasizes that independence (FAA).
needs to be afforded to both the process followed in accident If that sounds like a broad mandate, it is. Congress gave us powerful
investigations and to the Accident Investigation Authority tools to discover the facts and issue recommendations.
itself, which should be functionally separate from the State However, we have no power to require anybody to make changes, and
Civil Aviation Authority rather than one of its units. IFALPA we focus on safety only. We strive to issue recommendations that are
believes that this will eventually avoid real or perceived realistic enough to achieve. However, we do not conduct cost-benefit
conflicts of interest, and enhance the credibility of investiga- studies.
tions. As the Standard became applicable on 10 November So it might seem surprising that more than 80% of the time, recipients
2016, States that have not yet established an independent of our recommendations implement them even though we cannot
Accident Investigation Authority now have to do so as soon require implementation. They take action because we take great care to
as possible. The following article gives a perfect example of get our investigations right. Furthermore, our recommendations are
how a major independent Accident Investigation Authority intended to improve safety – a shared goal of everybody concerned.
operates in practice. Every accident raises the question, “why?”
The NTSB was set up to find the right answers. To do this, Congress
gave us political and functional independence.

InterPilot | The Safety and Technical Journal of IFALPA ISSue 1 | 2017
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