Having participated in several annual meetings of the Type Club Coalition (TCC) hosted by EAA, the thrust to enhance aviation safety routinely turns to involvement in accident investigations.
What to expect when type clubs become involved with accident investigations
— accident investigations follow professional procedures
— NTSB has responsibility for general aviation, but workload is very high, averaging 30 open investigations per investigator
— FAA often begins the investigation because they have more local access
— some investigations have known circumstances, usual from pilot statements, so they will have less depth
— some investigations will involve close scrutiny, including NTSB R&D specialists as well as component specialists
— expertise in a Type Club can help answer questions posed by the investigators, as well as suggest things to look for during the investigation
— over time, building credibility and relationships will encourage deeper involvement (but lets all hope we don’t need to investigate more accidents in your type)
— jungle drums often transmit info about accidents from local club members, instructors, airport managers, etc., so identifying a safety contact who remains connected to those who know about your aircraft type helps
— many news reports contain aircraft identification, so a Google News Alert set for something like “Cirrus crash” will send you email notifications (caution that many news reports misidentify the aircraft or use generic words like “experimental” or “light aircraft”, so it takes a bit of pruning to find the wheat in the chaff)
— the FAA Preliminary Accident and Incident Report web page provides the most authoritative and timely reports of accidents (see the current reports here: http://www.asias.faa.gov/pls/apex/f?p=100:93:0::NO:::)
— the NTSB preliminary report will appear on the NTSB database within 10 business days for significant investigations, meaning that some investigations with known circumstances will not appear until the final report does
— Tom took down the contact info here
— Jeff suggested the type club find the regional office near the accident to determine the assigned investigator (see https://www.ntsb.gov/about/contact.html)
— note that investigators are assigned on a rotating basis, so your accident may be investigated by someone different than the investigator of the last accident of your type
— at a minimum, we need an information contact
— better would be to add a technical and/or safety contact
— best would be to ensure that type clubs can update this information as it changes, perhaps by occasional prompts
— people wanting to help with accident investigations need to come up the learning curve and meet the professionals at a higher level of understanding
— researching prior investigation reports about accidents in your type of aircraft may help give you a better understanding of the ways you could help improve the reports
— better if participants become familiar with the NTSB investigation process (see https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/process.html)
— best if participants understand past efforts at safety improvements, especially the NTSB report on Safety of Experimental Amateur Built Aircraft (see http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2012/EAB_Study/)
— Jeff and I have been named as Parties to the Investigation, which is the gold standard for participation on the inside of the investigation and comes with several onerous obligations that people need to understand
— Parties must sign a 14-page agreement the sets out your responsibilities and commitments, notably that all information about the investigation be kept confidential within the investigation team and any shared information must come from the NTSB Investigator in Charge
— technical expertise may be useful for the investigation team, but that will likely originate from the team to the Type Club
— timely and informative responses to questions from the investigator will build credibility
— suggestions of what to look for or questions to research may be very helpful and begin to establish a relationship with the investigator, but respect that the investigator determines where the investigation goes
— theories of what happened, or speculation about what happened, are less helpful early in the process when the focus is on gathering factual information, so be prudent about that kind of communication
A closing thought: both the FAA and NSTB appreciate the potential for involving people with needed expertise. This may be design, engineering, construction, operation, or safety analysis expertise. However, the level of professionalism involved is high, so we need to do our part to meet them where they need the expertise.
A significant benefit of being helpful is the opportunity to guide the investigation and learn more that can help other pilots.
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