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This paper provides a report on the National Transportation Safety Board and the International Civil Aviation Organization and their contributions to aircraft accident investigation. Brief histories of the two organizations along with a few highlighted events are provided.
The NTSB and ICAO in Accident Investigation
The NTSB, America's legendary investigative body, is charged to find causes for transportation related accidents and make recommendations. ICAO, an agency under the United Nation's jurisdiction, is charged to promote and standardize international aviation throughout the world. The purpose of this paper is to look into these important two organizations and see how they contribute to the aviation industry's accident investigation abilities. First, let us get familiar with the NTSB and ICAO and learn a little bit of their histories.
National Transportation Safety Board has an interesting history, which shaped the organization into the well-respected investigative body we know todayâ€¦.
The NTSB originated in the Air Commerce Act of 1926, in which the U.S. Congress charged the U.S. Department of Commerce with investigating the causes of aircraft accidents. Later, that responsibility was given to the Civil Aeronautics Board's Bureau of Aviation Safety, when it was created in 1940.
In 1967, Congress consolidated all transportation agencies into a new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and established the NTSB as an independent agency placed within the DOT for administrative purposes. In creating the NTSB, Congress envisioned that a single organization with a clearly defined mission could more effectively promote a higher level of safety in the transportation system than the individual modal agencies working separately. Since 1967, the NTSB has investigated accidents in the aviation, highway, marine, pipeline, and railroad modes, as well as accidents related to the transportation of hazardous materials.
In 1974, Congress reestablished the NTSB as a completely separate entity, outside the DOT, reasoning that "...No federal agency can properly perform such (investigatory) functions unless it is totally separate and independent from any other ... agency of the United States." Because the DOT has broad operational and regulatory responsibilities that affect the safety, adequacy, and efficiency of the transportation system, and transportation accidents may suggest deficiencies in that system, the NTSB's independence was deemed necessary for proper oversight. The NTSB, which has no authority to regulate, fund, or be directly involved in the operation of any mode of transportation, conducts investigations and makes recommendations from an objective viewpoint.
Since its inception, the NTSB has investigated more than 132,000 aviation accidents and thousands of surface transportation accidents. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, NTSB investigators travel throughout the country and to every corner of the world to investigate significant accidents and develop factual records and safety recommendations with one aim-to ensure that such accidents never happen again. The NTSB's Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements highlights safety-critical actions that DOT modal administrations, the USCG, and others need to take to help prevent accidents and save lives. (History of The National Transportation Safety Board, n.d.)
Now that we have a basic understanding of who the NTSB is as a government agency, we can transition over to the history of ICAO.
People outside of aviation know little about the International Civil Aviation Organization. According to ICAO's websiteâ€¦
A specialized agency of the United Nations, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was created in 1944 to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity, as well as for aviation environmental protection. The Organization serves as the forum for cooperation in all fields of civil aviation among its 191 Member States. (International Civil Aviation Organization, n.d.)
ICAO, on its website, has a mission statement, which describes the agency's primary purposeâ€¦.
The ICAO or International Civil Aviation Organization is the global forum for civil aviation. ICAO works to achieve its vision of safe, secure and sustainable development of civil aviation through the cooperation of its Member States.Â (International Civil Aviation Organization, n.d.)
Around two years ago, ICAO had declared its strategic objectives for 2011-2013â€¦.
As the global forum for cooperation among its Member States and with the world aviation community, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sets standards and recommended practices for the safe and orderly development of internationalâ€‹â€‹l civil aviation. In its ongoing mission to foster a global civil aviation system that consistently and uniformly operates at peak efficiency and provides optimum safety, security and sustainability, ICAO has established three Strategic Objectives:
Enhance global civil aviation safety.
Enhance global civil aviation security.
Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development of Air Transport:
Foster harmonized and economically viable development of international civil aviation that does not unduly harm the environment (International Civil Aviation Organization, n.d.)
ICAO, the UN backed agency, could be better compared to the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or and other nations equal. However, unlike the FAA, ICAO lacks the ability to enforce regulations and dictate policies. However, ICAO has on occasion conducted aircraft accident investigations of their own. The two aviation disasters, that ICAO investigated and reported, worth mentioning are the 1973, Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 and 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007.
Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114
Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 was ICAO's first accident investigation. This disaster occurred during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, between Israel, Egypt, and Syria. There were 108 fatalities resulting from the Israeli Air Force shooting down of the Boeing 727â€¦.
Flight 114 operated on the flight Tripoli-Benghazi-Cairo. On the leg to Cairo weather conditions included a low stratocumulus and 6/8 to 8/8 altocumulus up to about FL180. The aircraft strayed off course after passing Sidi Barrani and continued past Cairo. Over the Sinai desert, the ground was visible again and the crew probably realized the error. At that moment, the aircraft was out of range of the navigational facilities. By then the aircraft was intercepted by 2 Israeli Air Force McDonnell F-4E Phantom II fighters. Both jet fighters tried to get it to land by rocking their wings and even firing across the nose of the Libyan plane. When the crew tried to return to Cairo the Phantom pilots thought it wanted to escape. They attacked the 727, hitting the right hand wingtip with tracers; a fire erupted. The crew attempted to make a belly landing in the desert, but crashed in flames. According to ICAO, the Cairo beacon was probably not functioning properly at the time. In addition, the approach control radar was out of order. .(Aviation Safety Network, n.d.)
ICAO was tasked to investigate the aircraft accident, by the United Nations, since Israeli-Arab relations were non-existent. The neutral party conducted its investigation, interviewed involved parties and drew out its causes and recommendations. It would be ten years later that ICAO would have to assume the accident investigator role; this time and incident involving the United Sates and the USSR.
Korean Airlines Flight 007
Based on this researcher's exploration, the 1983 Korean Airlines Flight 007 incident was the first time where the NTSB and ICAO interacted directly with each other. The event that led to KAL-007 demise was the followingâ€¦.
Korean Airlines flight KE007, a Boeing 747-230B, arrived at Anchorage, AK (ANC) at 03:30 local time after a flight from New York-JFK< NY (JFK). At 05:00 the aircraft took off again from runway 32, bound for Seoul (SEL). The flight was cleared directly to the Bethel VOR beacon and then on to the Romeo 20 route. However, the aircraft started diverging from its intended course and passed 12 miles North of the Bethel beacon. While approaching the Kamchatka peninsula, six Soviet Air Force MiG-23 fighters were scrambled. Because a US Boeing RC-135 intelligence plane was flying in the area east of Kamchatka, the Soviet defense forces probably thought the B747 radar echo to be the RC-135. KAL 007 left Russian airspace over the Okhostk Sea and the fighters returned to their base. Passing abeam the Nippi waypoint (4 hours after take-off), the aircraft was 185 miles off course and headed for Sakhalin. Two Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 fighters were scrambled from the Dolinsk-Sokol airbase at 17:42 UTC and 17:54 respectively. At 18:16 UTC flight 007 re-entered Soviet airspace. At 18:22 the Soviet command ordered destruction of the target (for the 2nd time). Two air-to-air missiles were launched by one of the fighters and struck the Boeing at 18:26 (August 31, 03:26 local time September 1). Cabin pressure was lost and the aircraft suffered control problems, causing the Boeing to spiral down and crash into the sea. (Aviation Safety Network, n.d.)
Since Korean Airlines Flight 007 originated from the United States the NTSB jumped into action to begin their investigation of the accident. It was their legal obligation to perform the investigation, but the U.S. State Department "squashed" the NTSB and made a formal request to have ICAO conduct the investigation. The State Department and the Reagan Administration did not view this event as an aviation accident but as a civilian aircraft downed by the Soviet Air Force. This would be ICAO's second aircraft accident investigation, since the 1973 Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114. Perhaps a neutral party was appropriate for the situation, but ICAO has no authority to demand participating countries to provide evidence. ICAO could only ask for voluntary information only. According to an FAA journal, Transportation Certification Update , Summer 1995â€¦.
â€¦ICAO Council for the 1992 Accident Investigation Divisional Meeting(AIG/92). MAK led the delegation that represented the Russian Federation during AIG/92 and worked closely with the NTSB to develop a consensus position on improving the content of Annex13 and other relevant accident investigation and prevention initiatives at ICAO. Additionally, in 1993, the NTSB worked closely with technical aviation safety specialists from MAK and DAT during the ICAO-led reopened investigation of the downing of Korean Airlines (KAL) Flight007 in 1983. (Aviation Safety Network, n.d.)
With the Cold War ending in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ICAO was able to acquire additional information to present a more "acceptable" report for the KAL 007 investigation. However, even today there are dozens of websites and books that believe there is a more sinister story behind the 1983 Korean Airlines Flight 007 disaster.
NTSB & FedEx 1406
The NTSB as an agency possesses a legendary amount of experience and accomplishments, but they are also human too. The inflight fire of Flight FedEx 1406 comes to mind.
En route from Memphis to Boston, flying at FL330, the warnings indicated smoke on cargo areas 7, 8, and 9 on the upper deck. A rapid emergency descent was carried with full speed brakes and at maximum speed during the descent, no. 6 and no.10 smoke warning lights also illuminated. An emergency landing was carried out 20mins. later at Newburgh runway 27. The aircraft was taxied onto a taxiway and evacuated immediately. The captain had some trouble opening the side window, because the aircraft was still pressurized. Visibility suddenly went to near zero as the cockpit filled with smoke. The cockpit crew exited the aircraft using a rope. The jump seat crew exited via the right emergency slide. Firefighters were not able to reach the source of the smoke due to the cargo arrangement. But 40 minutes after landing, the fire increased and burned through the fuselage. The aft fuselage structure was weakened by the fire, causing the tail section to separate. Four hours later the fire was extinguished. (Aviation Safety Network, n.d.)
The controversy with this accident was that the NTSB and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) could not agree with the source and origins of the inflight fire. Both the NTSB and the NFPA had vast amounts of data to back each other's claims. According to Walters & Sumwalt's book, Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports, the air carrier had no idea about the nature of its cargo. The NTSB had recommendations for both the FAA and the Department of Transportation. Today all persons sending out mail packages or cargo must declare their contents to ensure these items are properly packages and positioned for transportation. This was one accident where nobody involved died and major improvements to cargo transport were implemented. The NTSB and the NFPA could agree on the fire but lives are being saved from the lessons from this accident.
In closing, the NTSB and ICAO have kept their promises in promoting and maintain a safe and secure aviation industry. It is unfortunate that the aviation industry is inherently reactive and needs aircraft accidents and disasters to prompt changes that keep aviation the safest mode of transportation. Organizations like ICAO, the FAA, the NTSB, and their counterparts provide tremendous service to the citizens of the world.