NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Safety Board At The "Breaking Point"

December 6, 1999

The National Transportation Safety Board -- the federal agency which investigates airplane crashes -- has difficulty keeping up with rapid changes in the transportation environment and has placed its "ability to independently lead investigations of major commercial aviation accidents at risk," according to a new study from the Rand Corporation.

  • While the report gives the agency credit for making air travel safer in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, it warns that the NTSB is "at the breaking point" because of potential conflicts of interest and lack of adequate staff, training, equipment and management.
  • The NTSB has a budget of about $55 million a year.
  • The agency operates on a so-called "party system" in investigating a crash -- involving the cooperation of aircraft manufacturers, airlines, pilots and others -- which can lead to conflicts of interest.
  • Noting that the report on the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 still has not been issued, Rand recommended that accident reports should be completed in 30 months.

Complicating matters is the lack of strong management and cost accounting at the agency, the report said.

Source: Alan Levin, "Study: Small Staff, Conflicts Plague NTSB, USA Today, December 6, 1999.


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