FBI Setting an Example and Raising the Bar

By Chairman Christopher A. Hart

Chairman Hart with FBI Aviation personnelKudos to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is proactively applying the lessons that the NTSB learned from the crash of a helicopter operated by the state of Alaska. The kudos are because our recommendations from that crash were to the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well as the FAA — but not to the FBI. The Bureau’s action is a model of a safety ethic that we hope all helicopter operators will adopt: All operators can learn from others’ mishaps.

After the NTSB investigated the March 30, 2013 crash of an Alaska Department of Public Safety helicopter, we made recommendations that, if implemented, can help prevent future accidents.

More specifically, we recommended that public (i.e., government) operators that conduct search-and-rescue (SAR) operations develop and implement flight risk evaluation programs that take into account current weather conditions and flight-risk decision‑making. The recommendations also address training in flight risk evaluation, night vision googles, simulators, and safety management.

That’s what we do – investigate accidents, determine what caused them, and then make recommendations to those who can learn lessons from the accident to improve the safety of their operations. We did not, however, send these recommendations to the FBI. Thus, I was very pleasantly surprised when I received a letter from the FBI’s aviation program explaining the actions the Bureau had taken implementing NTSB’s recommendations. As a result of our recommendations, the FBI conducted a self-assessment of its policies, procedures, and operational performances. They found many of their programs to be operationally effective, but the FBI emphasized their need to always “improve and adopt.”

For example, the FBI is aggressively pursuing our recommendations concerning the training of non-pilot crewmembers, implementing scenario-based simulation training, and implementing external audits every three years. Furthermore, the FBI has added new aviation goals for the 2015 year. This will include the development and implementation of a formal Crew Resource Management program, considerations of scenario-based inadvertent IMC training, and developing policies on external audit programs.

The FBI, which conducts air operations similar to those of the recommendation recipients, moved admirably and with great purpose after they reviewed our recommendations. The FBI learned of the impending issuance of the six safety recommendations and responded to us regarding the actions they had already taken, as well as those they planned to take, to implement them.

On behalf of the NTSB, I am pleased to acknowledge the new steps that the FBI aviation program has taken. This is an excellent example of government working together to improve safety. The FBI can take pride in its outreach to be aware of these recommendations, its attention to these safety issues, and its willingness to step up and take action.

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