The National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to ever-fewer fatal airplane accidents – particularly those involving small aircraft – and that has safety experts worried, according to Brian Riley of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). GAMA has urged Congress to give NTSB more money to hire more investigators, but sees little hope that the money will be forthcoming.
Last year, NTSB investigators showed up at 62% of all fatal plane crashes, compared with 75% five years earlier, NTSB figures show. The FAA, legally required to send an investigator to every accident, told The Washington Post in February that NTSB investigators showed up less than half the time last year, a claim the NTSB says is inaccurate. A tight budget and backlog of more than 900 cases is blamed.
Acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker explained that his agency wants “more safety payback” from its time at accidents, so has stopped going to small crashes where the cause “seemed to be obvious.” He wants NTSB’s 43 regional investigators to focus on crashes where “a new safety lesson is likely to be learned.” Rosenker told a GAMA meeting on Valentine’s Day that the NTSB normally does not send investigators to accidents – fatal or otherwise – involving crop-dusters, gliders, homebuilts, balloons or ultralights. He said that those categories comprise roughly a quarter of each year’s fatal accidents.
Said GAMA’s Riley: “The NTSB is the organization qualified to do an investigation. They are rarely challenged. It’s like a stamp of approval. I’d like them to investigate all accidents.”