NTSB's Snit Fit
In the 24/7/365 universe of the continuous news cycle, it's not unusual to see politicians, business people and even world leaders communicate—or should I say engage in snit fits—via the media. But the NTSB, arguably one of the better government agencies, has generally been above this sort of thing. Well, maybe not anymore. Over the weekend, the safety agency appears to have gotten into a spat with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). This culminated in the NTSB disqualifying NATCA as an active party in the Hudson River mid-air collision that occurred on August 8.
These are all government employees, of course, and it's both discouraging and embarrassing to see them deal with what is a serious accident probe by engaging in this kind of public one upsmanship. Evidently, the board was unhappy with some NATCA pronouncements on details of this investigation and, in an unusual press release, it said this violated a formal agreement on how parties to investigations are supposed to behave. But parties to investigations disclose details all the time and the smart ones are careful not to attach any conclusions to what they decide to reveal. This includes NTSB members and investigators themselves.
Although no one would mistake NATCA for an organization capable of much restraint in public pronouncements, it does have a legitimate role to play in accident investigations in which its members may be implicated. Everyone understands that NATCA's number one job is to assure its own continuing existence, but a fortunate byproduct of that is occasionally holding the FAA's feet to the fire on safety issues, thus it deserves a voice in this investigation.
The right way to handle things like this is to pick up the phone and have a friendly chat, not toss out parties to an investigation just because they cracked the door and let something slip out. One could hope for a little more maturity here, although one might not expect to see it.