Aircraft Accidents, the NTSB and the FAA

The last two weeks I’ve been talking about the NTSB and its experience handling major aviation accidents. I introduced what happens when the industry takes on the Board investigators during the course of an investigation; how important information can be hidden from the Board in broad daylight. But what about the FAA?
In any aviation accident investigation, the FAA plays a very important part; they are the government liaison between the industry and the Board. Often when the NTSB is overwhelmed, the FAA handles General Aviation accidents. But during the major accidents, the FAA serves a sort of advisory role, keeping the NTSB investigators unschooled in the industry from catching their toes on the industry’s sleight-of-hand tricks.
The FAA is directly involved with the industry; they serve as the surveillance arm of the government, so they are more involved with the day-to-day movements of the industry. Entire offices of FAA inspectors ‘rub elbows’ everyday with certificate holders of every type, e.g. airlines, repair stations, to the point that the inspectors become very knowledgeable about how these certificate holders operate, what they can hide and what they can’t. That’s what accident investigators need – a thoroughly face-to-face relationship with the airline – to better understand where the problems lie.
That doesn’t mean that the FAA is the best entity to run an accident investigation; they are, after all, one of those being investigated. Airliners very rarely crash near their base and certificate management office; inspectors assisting on accidents may not be assigned from the airline’s certificate office and may not know the intricacies of the airline. The only NTSB investigator that would guarantee an FAA inspector from the management office would be the aircraft maintenance investigator, and, at the time, I was the one best equipped with airline experience.
But in the end, the FAA has a better working knowledge of the industry; they are more valuable to the NTSB than vice versa. Next week we’ll look at the FAA.

One thought on “Aircraft Accidents, the NTSB and the FAA”

  1. Interesting topic. Novelist out there could latch onto the fact the FAA might be complacent in the accident cause and tried to hide that fact from the NTSB. 🙂

    I look forward to your next post.

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