April 20, 2020

Who’s Investigating?

Episode 21

NTSB and FAA investigators are not deemed “essential” for the purposes of coronavirus guidance. That’s a huge concern for John and Greg as well as special guest Jason Lukasik, president of JL2 Aviation Consultants in Eagle River, Alaska.

Investigations of new accidents are all but on hold. Only basic information is being collected as personnel work from home. This even though investigators have biohazard training, proper protective equipment and the knowledge to conduct onsite investigations in a safe manner.

Perishable information is being lost as accidents are cleared and witnesses go without being interviewed. The NTSB and FAA say they plan to take up the backlog when operations get back to normal, but the work is sure to be much harder – and less insightful – as time passes.

There’s another wrinkle for the long term – the aviation industry role in providing expertise to crash investigations is dwindling. In the early 2000s, most manufacturers staffed up to have dedicated experts that contributed to crash investigations. This helped everyone identify root cases and safety issues more quickly.

Even before the heavy economic impacts of COVID-19, strapped manufacturers have not been back-filling investigator positions. That situation is certain to get worse as they deal with the losses from weeks and months of being all but shut down.

John, Greg and Jason share cases from their personal experiences to illustrate the risks and impacts these changes can have on air safety. They discuss the certain and urgent need to shift to new ways of handling air crashes and safety issues.

Photo caption: Once wreckage is removed from an accident site, investigations become more challenging. Photo: NTSB.

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