Aircraft Accidents and the NTSB

Recently I attended a class of aviators; the topic turned to how the NTSB’s aviation division’s accident findings usually gravitate towards, e.g. Pilot Error, FAA Oversight, Operator Error. Since the days I started with the NTSB – and since – that has been the common interpretation, even from people who work for the NTSB.
These feelings aren’t totally off the mark. Let me explain.
Above all, the NTSB is a collection of aviation specialists, mostly engineers. The average background for said engineers is in design or repair – mostly at the manufacturing level – and not in the industry; this is very important. Reason: the majority of major accidents take place in the industry. This means that NTSB investigators looking into topics like Structures, Powerplants, Systems and Survival Factors have no first-hand understanding of what the airline does.
Many may think I’m being cynical or shooting the NTSB down. I’m not, I’m just relaying what is a reality; a vast majority of NTSB investigators never worked in the aviation industry environment, yet these investigators are responsible for determining where mistakes are made in the General Aviation and Air Carrier industries. Bottom line: the NTSB investigates a majority of accidents that deal with problems the NTSB as a collective doesn’t understand.
The second problem that anyone who has worked for a government bureaucracy, served for the military, or has even been exposed to the circus of this Presidential Election would understand is that Bureaucracy and Efficiency do not mix; they are polar opposites, like oil and water.
In my first novel I tried to explain the dichotomy of civil service and effectiveness. I dealt with it for many years; the twenty years prior that I worked for the airlines was a paradise compared with the minefield that is the government. My son, having spent ten years in the Army now understands the dangers of trusting one’s future to an Administration’s whims.
I’m not suggesting the NTSB is corrupt; it’s ironic that they are probably too inexperienced and camera-friendly to be that scheming and manipulative. Perhaps that’s why the NTSB always goes to the fallback position, e.g. Pilot Error, etc. In short, it’s all they know.

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