After a five hour public meeting to discuss the mid-air collision between a Piper and a helicopter over the Hudson River, the National Transportation Safety Board overruled the recommendations of its staff and cited “inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept” and inattention of an air traffic controller as the probable cause of the accident, which killed nine people.
This is the first time VFR flight was cited as a cause and one in which the staff that studied and worked on the investigation did not agree. Board members overruled the staff members, bringing into question whether or not the make-up of the present board is unbiased or knowledgeable enough about issues to ignore experienced staffers.
The staff report centered on procedure failures in transferring communication to the Newark Airport tower and errors in frequency readback/hearback and regulations that do not provide for adequate vertical separation in the congested area. The controller’s distractions from duties, the staff reported, was because he was making a personal phone call. Board members rejected this and instead chose to put primary blame on see-and-avoid — VFR — flight. In the past, see-and-avoid has been cited as a contributing factor but never listed as a cause.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association immediately went on the offensive putting on its website a detailed account of the accident and the questionable decision of the board members to ignore staff issues.
More division between staff and Board members can be expected in relation to this issue as well as strong efforts by AOPA and possibly other groups to defend the assault on see-and-avoid brought on by political appointees overruling technically trained staffers.