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Report highlights NTSB failure to conduct thorough general aviation accident investigations, P.1

We’ve previously written on this blog about the general process the National Transportation Safety Board uses and the relationship between NTSB aircraft accident investigations and aircraft accident litigation. As we noted, NTSB probable cause findings and recommendations are not admissible in court, but the agency’s factual reports generally are admissible. It is important, therefore, that these factual reports are accurate.

For pilots of small aircraft, accuracy in factual reporting is particularly important, as there is a tendency for NTSB investigators to blame accidents on pilot error when the causes are not sufficiently understood. According to some who’ve looked into the process, NTSB investigators routinely overlook defective parts and dangerous designs as causes of small airplane crashes. 

Part of the problem is that small airplane crashes are much more common than commercial airline crashes, and the NTSB does not devote significant resources to the former, especially if the accident is minor and isolated. Interestingly, NTSB investigators often rely on manufacturers to identify issues with aircraft parts, which presents conflict of interest issues.

One of the issues at play is that the NTSB doesn’t always have records of all the information necessary to make a sound judgment regarding the cause of small aircraft accidents. Reliance on statistics regarding pilot error makes it too easy to prematurely conclude that there is no need to dig deeper than surface level explanations.

Another important issue is that NTSB investigations into small aircraft accidents are primarily concerned with the cause of the crash itself rather than the cause of death or injury. This distinction is critical for cases where injury and death is preventable, even given a crash. We’ll say more about this in our next post.

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