Category Archives: Inside NTSB

The Legacy of a Judge

By Christopher A. Hart

NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick G. Geraghty giving a presentation during AirVenture 2012.
Judge Geraghty giving a presentation during AirVenture 2012.

When people think of the NTSB, they most often think of our investigators working diligently at the scene of accidents in transportation. Many are also familiar with the safety recommendations that we issue to help make transportation safer.

What is less well known is that the NTSB serves as a “court of appeal” for airmen, mechanics or mariners who are contesting an FAA or USCG certificate action.  Our administrative law judges hear, consider, and issue initial decisions on such appeals.

On February 6, 2016, the NTSB suffered the sudden loss of Administrative Law Judge Patrick G. Geraghty. On behalf of the entire agency, I would like to express my condolences to Judge Geraghty’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Judge Geraghty served this nation as a naval aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps where he flew F-4 Phantom jets during the Vietnam War.  After his military service, he served as a senior trial attorney with the Federal Aviation Administration before becoming an Administrative Law Judge.  He was first appointed to hear cases with the U.S. Department of Labor. Judge Geraghty joined the NTSB as an administrative law judge in 1975.  During his more than 41 years of distinguished service with the NTSB, he heard and decided hundreds of medical and aviation enforcement cases.  He was a respected jurist who was always generous in sharing his expertise and advice with his fellow judges and with staff.

Judge Geraghty sometimes upheld FAA orders to suspend or revoke a pilot’s license, but he was also an instructor who helped many pilots learn how to comply with the regulations — and fly more safely — as they began or advanced their aviation careers. He held an airline transport pilot certificate and was a certified flight instructor. He also earned the prestigious title of PADI course instructor in scuba diving, and trained hundreds of scuba divers and instructors.

Judge Geraghty balanced scholarship and professionalism with a zest for everything else that life had to offer. He was a voracious reader and a lifelong learner, and he passionately pursued skiing, scuba diving, martial arts, and flying. In recent years, he learned to play the bagpipes, and traveled to Italy to take an immersion course in Italian. At the time of his passing, he was working toward a black belt in Kung Fu.

In addition to many colleagues and friends, Judge Geraghty is survived by his wife, Donna; his sons, Michael and Matthew, and his grandsons Matt and Jack.

Judge Geraghty will be greatly missed, but his legacy lives on in the many lives he enriched, both through his service to others and through the example that he set.

Our Thanks to Safety Communicators

By Sharon Bryson

CompBreakfastYesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting a meeting of transportation safety communications professionals. They came from many organizations, each with their own unique missions and capabilities. I began the meeting by saying that our attendees had one thing in common: they all worked for safety, something that really matters.

But as the conversation unfolded, I realized that in saying that, I had overlooked the obvious. They had something else in common: they were all passionate, dedicated communications professionals.

Our guests openly shared information both about their upcoming initiatives and about the challenges that they faced. They recounted some of their experiences in overcoming the challenges of an ever-shifting media landscape and shared knowledge with one another about getting the safety message out to their audiences.

Their spirit of collaboration was inspirational to me, as the director of an office tasked with developing messages based on NTSB safety recommendations and sharing those messages with the public.

Just as importantly, their knowledge of today’s communications landscape confirmed once again what I had already seen on countless occasions: in getting transportation safety messages out, we have powerful, committed, and smart allies among safety advocacy organizations.

While attendees differed in their missions and agendas, all of us came away committed to working in closer collaboration in the future.

It’s my daily honor to work for an agency with an unyielding focus on transportation safety.

But yesterday it was a special honor to host the professionals who share the NTSB’s safety mission. This is the type of needed collaboration that will help us prevent crashes, deaths, and injuries in all modes of transportation. 

To all of yesterday’s attendees, thank you.

Sharon Bryson is Director of the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

Honoring a Distinguished Gentleman and Jurist

By Chairman Christopher A. Hart

Judge_William_FowlerA commitment to aviation safety and fairness for all parties, with a passion for justice. That describes Judge William Fowler, a long-time NTSB Chief Administrative Law Judge whose career in service to the American public was nothing short of extraordinary.

On Sunday, August 9, 2015, the judicial and aviation community, along with the NTSB, bid farewell to Judge William Fowler, who passed away at the age of 93. He left a long legacy and storied career of public service.

I have known Judge Fowler for several decades, even before I first came to the NTSB in 1990. Judge Fowler, though not tall in stature, was most certainly a giant among men. He was humble, kind, dignified, helpful, and a gentleman, with superb judicial instincts.

Judge Fowler knew Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served as an inspiration to many who have become lawyers, judges, and even chief judges. As Justice Marshall was an inspiration for so many, Judge Fowler served as an inspiration for me from the day we first met.

More than a half century ago, Judge Fowler came to Washington, DC, to work for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as a special assistant on the Department of Justice’s organized crime task force that investigated Mafia activity.

Prior to answering the call to serve for the U.S. Attorney General, Judge Fowler had already distinguished himself as the city prosecutor in his hometown, Akron, Ohio, then as Ohio’s Assistant Attorney General, and then as Chief of the Highway Division of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

After coordinating federal efforts against organized crime, which played an instrumental role in securing 11 convictions in New York and Pennsylvania, Judge Fowler’s next career move was to federal administrative law. That included positions with the U.S. Department of Labor, Social Security Administration, and U.S. Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management). He began at the NTSB in 1969, when he was appointed as a Hearing Examiner. He was named the NTSB Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in 1977, and he continued serving in that position, not only managing the entire ALJ office, but also presiding over thousands of cases, until he retired in May 2012, after 53 years of distinguished service to the NTSB and to the American public.

In 2009, Judge Fowler was awarded the Mary C. Lawton Outstanding Government Service Award for his lifetime of excellence in administrative law. He was best known in the courtroom for his dignity and calm judicial temperament. He was not only a wonderful, caring, and thoughtful person, but he was such a great jurist that he won the respect of even those who lost their cases before him.

We at the NTSB thank Judge Fowler for his humanity, justice, and service to the NTSB and to the entire aviation community. He was always, and will always be, an inspiration to me, and he set a wonderful example for the entire federal service. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will remain forever.

NTSB Employees Volunteer to Make a Difference

By Christopher A. Hart

2015 National Volunteer Week logoThis week, we celebrate National Volunteer Week, and recognize the great work done by many on behalf of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

Here at the NTSB, I get to see how passionately our staff dedicates their time at work to support the agency’s mission of saving lives, by learning the lessons from accidents and recommending ways to prevent recurrences. But I am even more excited to see the incredible efforts that so many of our staff undertakes, when they are not at work, on behalf of so many others.

From our houses of worship, to various community service projects in the communities in which we live, NTSB staff live and practice the values of volunteerism. I hear countless stories from so many about the work they do on behalf of their children, schools, and activities. From leading scout troops, to mentoring, to coaching, NTSB staff is just as busy outside of the office as they are inside.

As a science and technology based agency, a number of staff have been participating in various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. And that, sharing and helping to educate, doesn’t stop at the classroom.   A number of our staff is engaged in adult education, including teaching English as a second language. And the spirit of volunteerism extends to the sick, elderly and at-risk community.

On top of all of that, our staff donates generously to the Combine Federal Campaign. As we’ve seen through the many CFC programs and activities that the different offices support during the annual campaign, there is no shortage to the extensive volunteerism that exists among our NTSB family.

Winston Churchill said that “we make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” So, I extend a special thank you to the NTSB staff that I have the honor of working with and also to the countless others who give of their time and talents to improve the lives of families, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens across the nation.

What is a public health scientist doing at the NTSB?

By Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman

This week is National Public Health Week.  I can’t think of a better time to introduce myself and answer the question, “What is a public health scientist doing at the National Transportation Safety Board?”

Dr. Dinh-Zarr being sworn in as the newest Member of the BoardI am the new Member and Vice Chairman of the NTSB and I am convinced that safe transportation is vital to the health and well-being of our communities.

A little over two weeks ago, I was honored to take my oath of office as the newest Member of the NTSB. Ever since I was a child growing up on the Gulf Coast, I have loved transportation. From working at the Railroad Museum as a kid to watching the ships near Galveston Island, to taking airplanes to faraway places, to using mass transit to get to work – transportation is of utmost importance to me, personally and professionally.   As I studied public health in school, specifically motor vehicle injury prevention, I saw that deaths and injuries were an unwanted (and preventable) by-product of mobility. But I also knew that we could do something about it. In fact, a seat belt has saved my life twice – once when a drunk driver hit my family’s station wagon when I was a child and again, when a distracted driver hit my car when I was a graduate student.  At the NTSB, experts investigate crashes in detail and we use the information to advance transportation in all modes.  We also highlight key issues through the Most Wanted List. As in public health, we ensure that all aspects are considered carefully as an avenue for the prevention of crashes: the person, the machine, and the environment.

President Obama proclaimed April 6-12, 2015, as National Public Health Week, and it is celebrated throughout the U.S. every year in recognition of the importance of public health to our nation and the world.

We often think of public health in terms of preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, or reducing chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Injury prevention is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of public health. Injuries have been a leading cause of death and disability throughout history and, in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, unintentional injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in our country! The NTSB contributes to public health by advancing transportation safety in order to prevent deaths and injuries.

The theme of this year’s National Public Health Week is the Healthiest Nation in One Generation and today’s focus is “Building Broader Communities,” which focuses on partnerships and collaboration to accomplish that. Two vital partnerships I have valued over the years in my injury prevention work is the American Public Health Association, the leaders of National Public Health Week, and the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which has very useful state-by-state data on many areas, such as seat belt use and impaired driving. I encourage you to be a part of National Public Health Week and help make yourself and our nation even healthier and safer.

We live in a mobile world. There is nothing more relevant to our health, and the health of our nation, and indeed to public health, than having a safe way to get where we need to go. Going to school, to work, to recreation, whether by land, by air, by rail, or by sea – it’s your decision where you want to go, and how you get there – but it is our job at the NTSB to help ensure you get there in the safest way possible.  I feel very privileged to be a part of this mission and to work with the highly capable and dedicated people at the NTSB!

After 25,000 flight hours and 49 years in aviation, a good friend retires.

By Robert Sumwalt

Captain Bill Weeks is presented with a retirement gift from Captain Bruce Galleron
Captain Bill Weeks is presented with a retirement gift from Captain Bruce Galleron, American Airlines/US Airways director of flight for Charlotte crew base, following Captain Weeks’ last flight as an airline captain.

7:18 Friday evening, US Airways flight 1782, an Airbus A321, sailed 35,000 feet over America’s heartland at 610 mph. At the controls of the San Francisco to Charlotte flight was a 34 ½ year airline veteran, Captain Bill Weeks. Due to reaching mandatory airline pilot retirement age, Captain Weeks’ landing in Charlotte would be his last as an airline pilot.

Bill started flying at 16. After college he flew for the USAF for 6 years, followed by a distinguished airline career, where — in addition to his piloting duties — he served as instructor, check airman, air safety investigator, and air safety representative for the Air Line Pilots Association.

Bill was a mentor and role model for many during his 25,000 hours of flight time and 49 years as a pilot. One of those who was deeply influenced by his professionalism was me. In 1983, he and I were selected to be part of a small team to travel to The Netherlands to be trained on an airplane that our airline would be soon be placing into service. For six weeks, Bill and I grilled each other on various aircraft systems, limitations, and procedures so that when the final check flight came, our qualifications would be unquestioned.

My learning experience didn’t stop there, however. From that point forward, when faced with tough decisions as a new captain and years afterward, I would often ask myself, “What would Bill do?” Our paths continued to cross, as we were both detailed to work in the airline’s safety department.

I recently asked Bill to reflect back on his vast experience and provide three tips that he’d like share.

1) “When things get time-compressed, slow down.” Two of the most important controls in the cockpit are the parking brake and the microphone. When on the ground, the pilot can reduce the tempo by setting the parking brake and not releasing it until things are at a more comfortable pace. Likewise, use the microphone to request delaying vectors or a holding pattern. As the saying goes, “take time to make time.” When Bill and I did safety work together, we would review events where rushing was a factor. One of Bill’s mantras was, “Don’t let ATC fly your aircraft.”

2) “If you can avoid continuing an unstabilized approach or doing a high speed rejected takeoff, you’ll probably have a long career.” To further Bill’s point, this summer the NTSB completed two air carrier accident investigations where, if the crew had discontinued an unstabilized approach, the accident could have been prevented.

3) “Don’t take off or land when convective weather is on or near the field.” Bill relayed a recent flight where a thunderstorm was over the airport. ATC asked each flight in the queue awaiting take off if they were able to depart, and with the exception of one, each flight declined. Fifteen minutes later, the storm had passed over the airport and skies along the departure corridor were completely clear. His point is certainly valid: When the weather is questionable, it’s not worth the risk of trying to takeoff or land. Allow the weather to move through before attempting to go.

Good advice from someone who is a professional in every way. Wishing Bill and his family Godspeed.

NTSB to Hold Forum on Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology

By Joseph Kolly, PhD

Every day, NTSB investigators rely on information from flight recorders, also known as “black boxes,” to help determine accident causes and make recommendations to prevent recurrences.

That information guides on-scene work, so providing it to our investigative team as soon as possible is a high priority. The information continues to play a vital role throughout the entire accident investigation process.

Investigator Erin Gormley prepares to access data from flight recorders in the NTSB’s lab.
Investigator Erin Gormley prepares to access data from flight recorders in the NTSB’s lab.

When a recorder is recovered from an accident site, it is up to my team in the Office of Research and Engineering to extract its data. My engineers in the Vehicle Recorder Laboratory do outstanding work. They have been able to obtain valid information from mangled, burned, and water-damaged flight data recorders (FDR) and cockpit voice recorders (CVR) time and again.

Rapid recovery of these recorders and access to the vital information they contain are among our highest priorities. But no laboratory can provide this critical data unless the recorders are found. Recently, there have been a few exhaustive, expensive, and well‑publicized searches for missing aircraft and their recorders. Such events have raised serious concerns within NTSB and in other safety organizations.

Currently, airliners are equipped with FDRs and CVRs that are crash‑hardened to survive fire and impact damage. These recorders are also fitted with beacons to help locate them when under water; they have a good track record in providing investigators timely and accurate information. However, there are technologies currently available and under development that may offer improvements in these areas.

In recent years, significant advances have been made in recorder design, underwater and emergency locator beacon technology, and wireless flight data transmission technology. These innovations can be packaged and integrated in many ways. But to have confidence in the benefits of any products or technologies, we need to fully understand how they work, what they offer, and how current standards and regulations impact their implementation.

To envision the best solutions for the future, we have to first thoroughly examine all the options. That is why the NTSB is holding a one-day forum, Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology, on October 7, 2014, in Washington. Details about the forum will be released in early September.

We will invite industry experts to the forum to discuss the technologies available. US federal and international regulators will address how these technologies could be implemented. We will invite aircraft and device manufacturers to discuss their vision for these improvements and how they will incorporate them in current and future aircraft. Further, we will facilitate discussion about data protection and use. The goal is to help the aviation community consider new ways to locate, access, and enhance flight data and decrease the time and expense involved in doing so.

It is time to take a fresh look at where we are and where we need to be. NTSB’s Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology forum will do just that. I hope you can join us in person or via live webcast for this important event.


Dr. Kolly is the Director of NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering