NTSB: Investigators Still Working By Remote Control


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTSB continues to curtail travel for its investigators and many accidents are being handled by remote control. About a third of the 1200 to 1300 annual aircraft accidents require on-site NTSB staff, but investigators haven’t traveled in about six months with no clear end in sight. In some cases, local law enforcement is providing information and photographs of crashes, according to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.  

“The hard reality is that some ongoing NTSB investigations will likely be impacted by pandemic measures. Work requiring travel of NTSB staff is curtailed or canceled unless, or until, it can be completed safely, or, conducted by another means,” NTSB Vice-Chairman Bruce Landsberg recently told AVweb. “The safety of NTSB staff is the Chairman’s and agency leadership’s first concern. We have to consider not only the investigator(s) themselves but all with whom they come in contact. That could include other agency staff, as well as their families, and their communities,” he added.

The agency doesn’t routinely send investigators to all accidents, but relies on local FAA staff for some accident work. Accidents involving fatalities usually do merit NTSB staff participation. Serious accidents require investigator involvement to examine wreckage to a level of detail FAA personnel are not necessarily trained to do. The agency says since implementing distancing and nonessential travel measures, trips to accident scenes are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We all want to get back to a full travel schedule but will do it when it’s safe to do so. In these days, risk assessment applies to as much to after-crash investigations as it does to all pilots planning flights before a crash we hope never happens,” Landsberg added. 

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  1. Potentially very close correlation here between a lack of investigation and risk of not discovering causes that have potential to cause others to come to harm, for fear of an investigator being exposed to low-risk of exposure to a disease with a better than 99.5% recovery rate.

  2. A wise business consultant told me long ago–“If you wonder if a required report is ever read or acted upon–try not writing one and see if anybody notices.”

    Similarly, NTSB has 1200-1300 on-site staff, according to this article–visit sites of about 1/3 of the crashes–and even THESE haven’t traveled in 6 months. Would most BUSINESSES put up with this amount of overkill?

    Clearly, NTSB is overstaffed–as proven by fact that they haven’t traveled in 6 months. I’d call that ripe pickin’s for reduction in force!

    Not that many years ago, a popular topic was “The 1% Solution.” To achieve desired results, huge changes need not be made all at one time. For example, if you wanted to increase efficiency in your business, try making it 1% more efficient per quarter–nearly ANY business can do that. For years, politicians have told us that Federal spending cuts would be “Draconian”–yet if Federal spending were cut only 1% a year, that would be easy–everybody could cut that amount. People need not even lose their jobs–1% would be taken care of by natural attrition.

    In the case of the NTSB–the example shows that they are clearly overstaffed. Applying the 1% Solution would mean cutting expenses and extra payroll by only 1% a year.–and in only 30 years or so, the NTSB would be back in balance with employees-to-workload. (sarcasm off)

  3. Typical bureaucratic stupidity, scared and unwilling to do their job!
    I travel several times a week because I have a job to do, but I guess if you’re a government paid bureaucrat you can just stay home at full pay and let the taxpayers worry about it.

  4. One has to remember that Covid-19 is very selective in who is infected. Desk drivers are particularly susceptible to infection, however, it avoids fire fighters, police, medics, truckers, pilots etc. therefore we must keep the bureaucrats in the isolation bunkers and send the others out into the real world.

  5. Great comments here.
    Jim h mentioned the 1% cost cut per yr.
    I heard Hannity making that proposal some time back.
    Sounds great but too bad it will never fly. — pun.