NTSB Investigative Hearings: A Window into NTSB Accident Investigations

By Robert Sumwalt

Member Sumwalt at the scene of UPS 1354In the predawn hours of August 14, 2013, UPS flight 1354, an Airbus A-300-600, crashed while on an instrument approach to Alabama’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.  Both crewmembers were fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed.

As part of the NTSB’s ongoing investigation, tomorrow — February 20, 2014 — NTSB will hold a one-day investigative hearing into the facts, circumstances, and conditions surrounding the crash. Specifically, the hearing will focus on the following areas:

  • UPS’s procedures, training, and the execution of non-precision instrument approaches.
  • Human factors issues associated with effective crew coordination and resource management, including decision-making, communication, fatigue and fitness for duty, as well as monitoring and cross-checking, policies, standard operating procedures, guidance, and training provided to UPS crewmembers.
  • UPS dispatch procedures, including training, evaluation, roles and responsibilities, and the limitations of dispatch-related software.

Each of the three panels will begin with the technical panel – NTSB’s investigative staff with expertise in the relevant area —  posing questions to a panel of witnesses. The accredited representative from the French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de l’aviation civile (BEA) will also participate on the technical panel.  The witnesses will primarily be from UPS, FAA, and Airbus, and are those individuals who NTSB believes can best provide information pertaining to each topic. After the technical panel questions the witnesses, each party to the hearing will have the opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses. NTSB designates as parties to a hearing those agencies and  organizations best-suited to provide technical expertise to the investigation. Parties to this hearing are FAA, UPS, Airbus, the Independent Pilots Association, and the Transport Workers Union. Finally, each of the five NTSB Board Members will have an opportunity to pose questions to the witnesses.

It’s important to note that the hearing in strictly fact-finding in nature, meaning that we will not conduct any analysis of the accident during the hearing. The investigative staff’s analysis will be presented later this year at a publicly-announced Board meeting, during which the Board will deliberate the report, findings, conclusions, and safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents.

Like all NTSB hearings and Board meetings, the UPS hearing is open to the public. Directions to the Board room are available here: http://www.ntsb.gov/about/conference_center.html. The hearing is also available by live streaming webcast — http://stream.capitolconnection.org/capcon/ntsb/ntsb.htm — where it will be archived for approximately 90 days.

Concurrent with the Chairman gaveling the meeting to order, NTSB will open the accident’s public docket which contains all factual information gathered to date. At that time, the docket will be available via the hearing’s webpage: http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2014/ups1354_hearing/index.html.

Public hearings are an important part of the NTSB’s investigative transparency. We make all factual information available to the public through the public docket, the meeting is open to the public, and is also available via webcast. It is through these means that the public has a window into NTSB accident investigations.

I hope you will be able to join us. The hearing begins at 8:30 am EST and will conclude at 5:30 pm EST.

Robert L. Sumwalt was sworn in as the 37th Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on August 21, 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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