NTSB Says FAA Search & Rescue Needs Improvement

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The FAA needs to do a better job co-ordinating its search and rescue responsibilities, the NTSB said recently, to ensure that survivors of aviation accidents get help as quickly as possible. "The whole process needs to get nailed down a lot tighter than it is," NTSB radar expert Scott Dunham told the Associated Press. In a letter (PDF) to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, the safety board cited several cases when information readily available to FAA staffers was not communicated to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center as quickly or as clearly as it should have been. In one of several cases cited by the NTSB, a 2007 accident in Georgia, the pilot survived the crash of his Piper Tomahawk and activated an emergency transponder code. Due to miscommunications between the FAA and AFRCC, no search was launched until after the pilot's family reported him missing the following day. When the wreck was found, the pilot was dead. Four other cases cited, from 2006 to 2008, all involved general aviation aircraft.

The NTSB issued nine recommendations to the FAA for improving its search and rescue response, mainly to improve training and clarify procedures. Also this week, the FAA got some positive press for a safety program that is working well, in a USA Today story. The FAA's new no-fault error-reporting program for air traffic controllers has collected more than 14,000 reports since June 2008 that have helped to identify and address safety issues, the story says. Analysis of the reports has helped to reveal trouble spots in routings, procedures, and airport surface markings. "This [program] is a way for us to get new sets of eyes and ears in a lot of places," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. "I think everybody agrees there will be a safer system in the long run."