The Role of the National Transportation Board in Aviation Safety

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The Role of the
National Transportation
Safety Board
in Aviation Safety

Chris Dahlstrand
Principles of Transportation
12 December 2000


The movement of millions of passengers over distances thought impossible decades ago is symbolic of the modern air transportation era that is characterized by speed, comfort and personal convenience. The commerce of aviation, both the operation of commercial aircraft for profit and the development of aeronautical systems, is also an important symbol of national prestige and a powerful economic force. Safety in air transportation is therefore a matter of significannot national importance.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plays a central role in the overall equation of aviation safety. The agency enjoys the reputation of being the foremost independent safety investigative authority in the world. The caliber of the agency's investigations and reports has become the international standard. The NTSB is considered to be the best in the business and has served as a model for independent investigative authorities in many countries. And although the NTSB investigates thousands of marine, rail, highway, pipeline and general aviation accidents each year, the public reputation and credibility of the Board substantially rests on its ability to determine the cause of major commercial aviation accidents (Lebow, et al. 18).

The NTSB was formed through the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and the Independent Safety Board Act of 1974 ("Code of Federal Regulations Part 800"). These two pieces of legislation placed the responsibility of investigating and determining the probable cause(s) of all civil aviation accidents with the NTSB ("1996 Annual Report to Congress" 28). The agency was later charged with the duties of investigating safety issues within the other modes of transportation – marine, rail, highway and pipeline. While the agency commands no significannot enforcement powers - that is, it is not a regulatory agency - it does exert enormous influence based on the accuracy of its investigations and the authority of its recommendations. The NTSB has its headquarters in L'EnfantPlaza, downtown Washington, D.C. Board Mission

The primary function of the Board is to promote safety in transportation. The Board is responsible for the investigation, determination of facts, conditions and circumstances and the cause or probable cause of all accidents involving civil and certain public aircraft. In addition, the Board investigates highway accidents, including railroad grade-crossing accidents; railroad accidents in which there is a fatality, substantial property damage, or which involve a passenger train; pipeline accidents in which there is a fatality, significannot injury to the environment, or substantial property damage; and major marine casualties and marine accidents involving a public and a non-public vessel or involving Coast Guard functions ("Code of Federal Regulations Part 800"). Simply stated, the Board's mission is to prevent accidents and save lives in transportation. And although the NTSB's mission is primarily a proactive one – the prevention of transportation accidents – the agency accomplishes this mission by being reactive in responding to catastrophic events. In reality, the Board uses the lessons learned from real-world accidents as catalysts to prevent future occurrences. The NTSB aims to improve quality through the analysis of failure. Board Membership

The Board consists of five Members appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate ("Code of Federal Regulations Part 800"). This allows the agency much more latitude when investigating accidents and making recommendations. With the absence of a separate agency to report to, such as the FAA or DOT, the board can exercise its full discretion without fear of retribution. The NTSB currently employs a workforce of 402, including office clerks,...
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