WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board reaches its 40th anniversary on April 1.
The NTSB opened its doors April 1, 1967. On that day, the Bureau of Safety was removed from the Civil Aeronautics Board and became the foundation for the new accident investigation agency. Since then, the NTSB has investigated about 130,000 aviation accidents and thousands of accidents in the other modes of transportation: highway, rail, marine and pipeline.
“I have often said that the NTSB is one of the best bargains in government,” NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said. “With fewer than 400 employees, the Safety Board is responsible for investigating more than two thousand transportation accidents a year. In our 40 years, our independent investigations have played an important part in improving the safety of every mode of transportation. As a result of the efforts of the Safety Board and other government agencies, manufacturers, operators and stakeholders, the United States enjoys a safe transportation system that is the envy of the world.”
The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and major accidents in the other modes of transportation. It is not a regulatory agency; its major product is the safety recommendation, each of which represents a potential safety improvement. In its 40 years, the NTSB has issued some 12,600 safety recommendations, with an average acceptance rate of 82 percent.
The transportation system has seen many changes since the mid-1960s and experienced substantial growth. The safety of those systems also has increased dramatically, as two of the major modes illustrate.
Aviation safety has improved, in part, because investigations now feature digital flight recorders with many hundreds of parameters, where foil recorders 40 years ago provided only 5 parameters and had to be read out by hand. Equipment or operational problems can now be more readily and confidently identified.
Turbine engines are so reliable that twin-engine aircraft are now allowed to fly for thousands of miles over open water. Computers have led to the development of extremely realistic flight simulators, allowing pilots to be trained to handle virtually any conceivable flight condition. Systems developed and installed on airliners – resulting at least in part from NTSB recommendations – have virtually eliminated mid-air collisions and controlled flight into terrain crashes in this country for aircraft so equipped.
If the air carrier accident rate were the same today as it was in 1965, the United States would average a fatal airliner accident every 10 days. Except for the terrorist attacks of 2001 – which were deliberate criminal acts – no year since 1990 has seen more than 4 fatal scheduled air carrier accidents in the United States. The annual number of general aviation crashes has dropped by two thirds in the last 40 years.
Highway safety has improved dramatically in that period of time as well. Although the number of highway fatalities has fallen only 17 percent in the last 35 years, the extremely large increase in miles driven has resulted in a drop in the fatality rate of about 70 percent.
“We have made great strides in the last 40 years in improving highway safety through the broad acceptance of seat belts and realization that drunk driving cannot be tolerated by our society,” Chairman Rosenker said, “but we still lose over 43,000 of our fellow citizens every year on the roadways and this must be stopped.”
While acknowledging some long-term safety challenges the NTSB continues to address – like operator fatigue and railroad anti-collision systems – Rosenker applauded the work of those who have staffed the Safety Board over the decades.
“I am confident that in the years to come the National Transportation Safety Board will continue to be at the forefront of identifying safety problems in the transportation system and recommending changes to eliminate them. I think our nation has been well-served by the career professionals who comprise the dedicated workforce of the NTSB. I congratulate them and all who have come before them over the last 40 years.”
— Special to Railfanning.org News Wire