The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent agency of the U.S. government that determines the probable cause of transportation accidents and promotes transportation safety through the recommendation process.
To help prevent accidents, the NTSB develops and issues safety recommendations to other government agencies, industry, and organizations that are in a position to improve transportation safety.
The NTSB states its mission is to promote transportation safety by:
Maintaining its congressionally mandates independence and objectivity.
Conducting objective, precise accident investigations and safety audits.
Performing fair and objective airman and mariner certification appeals.
Advocating and promoting safety recommendations.
Assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families through Transportation Disaster Assistance (TDA).
The Air Commerce Act of 1926, congress charged the Department of Commerce with investigating the causes of aircraft accidents. Later that Responsibility was given to the Civil Aeronautics Board's Bureau of Aviation Safety.
In 1967, Congress consolidated all transportation agencies into a new Department of Transportation and established the National Transportation Safety Board as an INDEPENDENT agency within the department.
With the passage of the Independent Safety Board Act of 1974, Congress made the NTSB completely independent outside of the DOT, because
No federal agency can properly perform such investigatory functions unless it is totally separate and independent from any other..agency in the United States.
When a major commercial aviation accident occurs, an NTSB go-team, led by an investigator-in-charge (IIC), is dispatched from the agency's Washington, D.C headquarters to the accident site, usually within a couple of hours of notification of the event. The IIC, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety (OAS), organizes, conducts, and manages the field phase of the investigation, regardless of whether a board member is also present on the scene.
On 24-hour alert, go-team personnel possess a wide range of accident investigation skills. For aviation accidents, a go-team roster could include one of the five members of the NTSB, an air traffic control specialist, a meteorologist, a human-performance expert, an expert trained in witness interrogation, an engine specialists, as well as experts in hydraulics, electrical systems, and maintenance records.
The length of time a go-team remains on the accident site varies with need, but generally a team completes its work in 10 to 14 days. However, accident investigations often can require off-site engineering studies or laboratory tests that might extend the fact-finding stage. In cases of crew fatalities, a local coroner usually performs autopsies on the flight crew to determine at the outset whether pilot in-capacitation might have been a factor. An autopsy can also reveal who was sitting where in the cockpit and who was flying the aircraft.
- Human-performance specialists examine the background and performance of persons associated with the circumstances surrounding an accident, including the person's knowledge, experience, training, physical abilities, decisions, actions and work habits.
- Aviation engineering experts in four areas provide strong technical investigative skills. Power plant specialists examine the airworthiness of aircraft structures and flight controls as well as the adequacy of design and certification.
With the completion of the fact-finding phase, the accident investigation process enters its final stage-analysis of the factual findings. The analysis is conducted at the NTSB's Washington,D.C, headquarters. The final accident report includes a list of factual finding concerning the accident, analysis of those findings, recommendations to prevent a repetition of the accident, and a probable-cause statement.
The Safety Recommendations made to the FAA is the NTSB's end product. Nothing takes a higher priority, and nothing is more carefully evaluated. In effect, the recommendation is vital to the NTSB's basic role of accident prevention because it is the lever used to bring changes an improvements in safety to the nation's transportation system. Recommendation are based on findings of the investigation and may address deficiencies that do not pertain directly to what is ultimately determined to be the cause of the accident.
The NTSB aviation accident database and synopses, which go back as far as 1962, are available online at http://www.ntsb.gov. These databases contain information on civil aviation accidents and selected incidents that occur within the shores of the United States, within its territories, and in international waters.