Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302, Annex 13, and the NTSB’s International Mission

By Chairman Robert Sumwalt

Yesterday, the NTSB issued a press release about our ongoing assistance to the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau in its investigation into the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

Under the provisions of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation—or simply, Annex 13—Ethiopian authorities are responsible for investigating the accident because it happened in Ethiopia; however, because the airplane was designed and manufactured in the United States, the U.S. is invited by the host country to participate in the investigation. That role is carried out by the NTSB.  The NTSB did designate an accredited representative to lead the U.S. team of investigators assisting the Ethiopian investigation.

The accredited representative and other NTSB team members are currently on the ground in Addis Ababa. Additional NTSB investigators were dispatched to France to assist the Ethiopian investigators and the French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) with downloading and analyzing the accident flight recorders. The NTSB accredited representative in Ethiopia will coordinate all US input into the investigation—not just that from NTSB investigators, but also from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing, and others. The FAA can bring to the table nuanced knowledge of how the aircraft type is regulated and certificated. The airplane and engine manufacturers have detailed engineering and operational knowledge. They, and any other entities that can render technical assistance, are designated technical advisors—the rough equivalent of parties to a domestic investigation.

Annex 13 rights and responsibilities go both ways. For instance, many readers remember the NTSB’s investigation of the crash-landing of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco in 2013. The NTSB was responsible for the investigation because the accident happened in the United States, and the Boeing 777 aircraft was designed and manufactured here. However, the airplane was registered in the Republic of Korea, and Asiana Airlines was a Korean operator. So, during that investigation, the Korean Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board (KARAIB) provided an accredited representative to assist the NTSB investigation.

With so many aircraft manufactured in the United States and flown by US airlines, the NTSB represents the US in numerous accident investigations the world over via Annex 13. Annex 13 sets down the objective of the investigation, which is in concert with our objective at the NTSB.

The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents. It is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability.

Although it is not unheard-of for investigators to approach investigations somewhat differently, there is a shared commitment among participants to determine the facts and findings. Under Annex 13, investigators are able to investigate, by and large, with future aviation safety as their only goal. And every time an accident doesn’t occur, it’s in some part due to safety lessons learned though the roles and relationships established by Annex 13.

Annex 13 ensures that every investigation has access to the technical expertise and resources needed to learn safety lessons and prevent recurrences.

For more information on NTSB participation in foreign investigations go to: https://go.usa.gov/xEswV.

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