Top Letters And Comments, August 20, 2021


Change Of Watch At The NTSB

For aviation, at least, Sumwalt was the best chairman ever. But, neither he, nor his successor, can change the systemic problems at the NTSB that have developed the past 20 years, or so. Hiring practices and qualifications, for starters. Now, there are too many investigators, especially at the field offices, that are not well trained nor motivated. Too many avoid traveling to the accident site when they can, if for no other reason they have not been conditioned to carnage.

And, so it goes.

The Kobe Bryant investigation was good, because it was handled from headquarters with a go-team, and with a very capable IIC (he has been there long enough to be considered “old school.”)

Had Sumwalt still been at the helm, a go-team sent to Truckee would have been more likely.


My issue with NTSB is not with the process–it is with the conduct of GA investigations.

We had a medical helicopter crash at the airport I manage. Five other witnesses viewed the crash, myself and another helicopter pilot. I sent all witnesses to a neutral corner to describe what they observed. When we heard from NTSB–they asked us to secure the site (already done)–“don’t let anyone in–INCLUDING THE FAA.”

THE NTSB “investigator” took our notes–“You know what I don’t like about this? These notes are almost all the same.” I assured him that they were done independently. We noted that the helicopter approached the ramp–that there was a puff of smoke from the right side of the helicopter–the the blades coned as he tried to arrest the descent–that it was still coming down at a high rate–that he tried to skid it onto the grass, but the aircraft skid caught the edge of the pavement, causing it to roll over. The NTSB “investigator” was in the cockpit, and announced “I think I’ve found the cause–there were TWO flight nurses on board–the helicopter had an FM entertainment radio installed–I think the pilot was just trying to impress the nurses and boogeying to the music.” I pointed out that ALL of the switches on the audio panel were in the “speaker” position–(though everyone was wearing headsets”–and that it was highly unlikely that he was monitoring 2 comms, 2 VORs, ADF, marker beacons, ambulance frequency, and hospital frequency ALL at the same time. He continued to try to defend his position–I told him “The BIG thing you missed is the fact that this helicopter is flown from the RIGHT seat–not the left–where the switches were ALL selected!

I pointed out to him that the right engine side of the helicopter was sooted and scorched–but not the left side. Firemen on the scene confirmed they extinguished a fire on the right engine. A subsequent teardown THREE MONTHS LATER confirmed the right engine failure.

Yet we PAY these people for their incompetence! I have nice letters from the hospital, emergency helicopter provider, and the pilot–“I’m SO GLAD that we had experienced people that observed and documented the crash!” This is far from the ONLY instance of NTSB incompetence.

Jim Hanson

I’ll echo Paul’s comments on the NTSB’s new CAROL system for searching accident reports. It comes across as designed by someone trying to maximize the difficulty in accessing accident information. As part of my work, I read 100 NTSB aviation accident reports a month. The previous search system was fast and intuitive. The CAROL system is anything but intuitive and relies on has a multi-page instruction manual filled with arcane jargon that simply isn’t helpful. I’ve spent several hours working to figure out CAROL and can use it for most of what I need but am constantly frustrated by its shortcomings and the fact that it hides information a user needs to do a search (good luck figuring out how to find accidents between two dates – you can do it, but figuring out how is time-consuming).

I’m also concerned that a number of accident reports for the time period near the end of that covered by the old system and the first year or so of CAROL have been lost or cannot be accessed. I’ve no data, but in 15 years of searching and reading accident reports monthly, I’ve gotten a feel for how many accidents will have occurred for a type of airplane during a year. When the system returns only a fraction of that number, I get concerned.

What has made it worse is that when I’ve tried to reach out to the NTSB through the contact information in CAROL. I’ve never gotten a response to my questions.

The NTSB had an excellent system for searching aviation accident reports – it screwed it up with CAROL. While it might be fun to assert that it was done on purpose, my experience with large bureaucratic organizations in the public or private sector is that it’s just the result of incompetence along with high-level supervisors insisting on having things done their way rather than in ways recommended by subordinates who actually know what they’re doing.

Rick Durden

Embraer Ponders Rear-Engine Turboprop Airliner

I wish Embraer good luck on this airplane. If they are aiming it to the American market then they will really need it. As Bombardier found out with the Q400, whether right or wrong, American airline passengers do not like prop driven airliners. Ask anyone who flew the Piaggio or airport authorities who banned them about noise from pusher props. The 717 which was originally the MD95 with UDF (unducted fans) props which were dropped due to noise and lack of interest from the airlines. I have a feeling Embraer will end up putting turbofan engines in place of the props, or else aiming their sales efforts to other markets.

Matt W.

Poll: Rate The Job The NTSB Does For General Aviation

  • They do well on the “big” accidents (i.e. newsworthy). Not so much the small, ASEL stuff. Often skipping facts from ATC statements and recordings.
  • As Paul B. said, they are too slow in getting the final reports out. If I might rob from a standard quote, safety delayed is safety denied.
  • The NTSB does well enough, but they are (and should be) focused on aircraft with lots of seats.
  • It’s a complete waste of time and money for the NTSB to investigate most single engine crashes for planes older than 20 years. We pretty much know how they fail.
  • The NTSB leadership does not have the required aviation background to do a good job.
  • They have zero teeth and the FAA largely ignores the NTSB.
  • None – they do nothing for GA.
  • Blame the Pilot, Airplane Broke, Out of Fuel.
  • The higher the dollar value involved, the more thorough the work.
  • Never had any direct experience.
  • They have no interest in GA.
  • Present the findings and then step aside; we don’t need no mo’ Gov’t “help!”
  • Need a measuring stick for this.

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  1. Paul Berge is my favorite columnist and I was surprised Balloonists were offended by his piece, his reply was a bonus column!