Investigators Are On The Scene

Good advice and safety tips for aircraft technicians from accident investigators


For those of us who make a living in aviation, the words, "NTSB and FAA Investigators are on the scene," are somehow a comfort. Even the raw edge of the flying public’s fears is softened because the public, like us, have come to understand that these Investigators will find the cause of the accident and the FAA and the aviation industry will take measures to prevent a similar accident from happening again.
But have you ever wondered why there are two Federal Investigation teams, why not just one? The reason is both the NTSB and the FAA have different areas of responsibilities at the accident site. The NTSB has only two areas of responsibilities. They have to determine probable cause and make safety recommendations. While the FAA assists the NTSB investigator to find the probable cause, the FAA investigator is also there to see if the FAA was at fault or deficient in the performance of its assigned responsibilities.

Many different roles
Nine areas of responsibility the FAA investigator must examine
1. Performance of FAA’s facilities or functions
2. Performance on non-FAA owned and operator ATC facilities and Navaids
3. Airworthiness of FAA-certificated Aircraft
4. Competency of FAA-certified Airmen, Air Agencies, or Air Carriers
5. Adequacy of the Federal Aviation regulations
6. Adequacy of the FAA’s airport certification safety standards or operations
7. Adequacy of FAA’s Air Carrier and Airport Security
8. Medical qualification of Airmen
9. Violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations

To do the job, the FAA accident investigator must be an actor and play many roles. One minute the investigator plays the detective on the scene. The next minute, he or she plays the diplomat, the resource manager, and media target. They play all these roles while dressed in an environmental suit breathing through a face mask, smeared with Noxzema® to fool their sense of smell from the impossible to describe, but never forgotten, smell of dried blood mixed with burnt aluminum. Then they finish their job they go back to their desk in Washington, fill out their reports and wait for the next phone call. A phone call, that in my mind, is a personal invitation to take another walk through Hell.
What kind of a background does a person need to do this kind of job in which you must make sense out of chaos? Most of us figured the accident investigators profession demands rock solid steady individuals, with superior IQs, keen insight, and blessed with iron nerves, strong character, and even stronger stomachs. But, is this perception true? Curiosity aroused, I took the opportunity to take a short walk down the hall to the Office of Accident Investigation Division.

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