NTSB Amends Reporting Requirements for Aircraft Accidents and Incidents
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has updated the notification and reporting requirements for aircraft accidents and incidents. The reporting obligations extend to the operator of any civil aircraft, public aircraft not operated by the Armed Forces or an intelligence agency of the United States, or any foreign aircraft. Notification must be made to the nearest NTSB office “immediately, and by the most expeditious means available.”
The final rule, effective March 8, 2010, is codified in the amendment to or addition of six subsections of 49 C.F.R. § 830.5. Importantly, and as expressly noted in the NTSB’s comments in connection with the rules, the NTSB reporting requirements are distinct from those of the FAA. Thus, an operator should not presume that a report to the FAA automatically satisfies its obligation to notify the NTSB.
The NTSB Amended Reporting Obligations
In addition to the incidents previously defined in the regulation, which included events such as “in-flight fire,” “aircraft collision in flight” and “sustained loss of the power of thrust produced by two or more engines,” operators must now report the following additional six types of incidents to the NTSB:
1) Failure of any internal turbine engine component that results in the escape of debris other than out the exhaust path. The NTSB imposed this reporting requirement on the basis that critical evidence has been lost as result of a delay in notification of engine and component failures. Acknowledging that the FAA already requires notification of engine or component failures, the NTSB stressed that immediate notification to the NTSB is especially important because NTSB regulations also require an aircraft operator involved in a reportable event to preserve the wreckage and all pertinent records until the NTSB takes custody.
2) Release of all or a portion of a propeller blade from an aircraft, excluding release caused solely by ground contact. The NTSB’s stated objective behind this rule is to receive notification of any release of an aircraft propeller blade that is inconsistent with its design parameters and certification. The exclusion of ground contact is based on the rationale that aircraft propeller blades are not designed or expected to continue to remain intact following ground contact.
3) A complete loss of information, excluding flickering, from more than 50 percent of certain aircraft cockpit displays. The NTSB’s goal is to capture “display blanking” events on newer “glass cockpit” type displays. The cockpit displays expressly implicated by the regulations are Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) displays, Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) displays, Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) displays, “or other displays of this type, which generally include a primary flight display, primary navigation display, and other integrated displays.” Although the NTSB acknowledged that “flickering” can be a symptom of an underlying problem, the amendment excludes “flickering” from the reporting obligation on the rationale that the operator’s maintenance organization is equipped to address the symptom.
4) Certain Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) resolution advisories. The rule requires notification of ACAS resolution advisories issued either (i) when an aircraft is being operated on an instrument rules flight plan and compliance with the advisory is necessary to avert a substantial risk of collision between two or more aircraft, or (ii) to an aircraft operating in class A airspace. The rule leaves undefined a precise definition of “substantial risk of collision,” but the NTSB notes that the FAA’s definition of a near mid-air collision (possibility of collision as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft, or report from pilot or flight crew member that a collision hazard existed between two or more aircraft) may provide further guidance on the issue.
5) Damage to helicopter tail or main rotor blades, including ground damage, that requires major repair or replacement of the blades. The NTSB stated that the objective behind this rule is to receive notification of all rotor blade strikes that result in damage, regardless of what the blades strike.
6) Any event in which an aircraft operated by an air carrier lands or departs on a taxiway, incorrect runway, or other area not designed as a runway or experiences a runway incursion that requires the operator or the crew of another aircraft or vehicle to take immediate corrective action to avoid a collision. The NTSB comments clarify that this rule does not require the reporting of all go-around maneuvers. For instance, the NTSB notes that the rule excludes the reporting of situations where the controller instructs a pilot to perform a go-around because an aircraft or vehicle is on the runway; this is a “controlled situation.” In contrast, there is a reporting requirement when a pilot executes a go-around and the tower controller was not aware of the situation.
The NTSB, as an independent agency, promulgates its own reporting requirements. The NTSB is not required to rely on reports provided to the FAA and does not have the authority to direct changes to FAA procedures. Thus, operators must be mindful of their respective obligations to report “accidents” and “incidents” imposed by the NTSB pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 830.5 and to report “occurrences” imposed by the FAA pursuant to 14 C.F.R. § 21.3. Although there is overlap between the two regulations, operators must be mindful of distinctions between the specific reportable events, and the time and manner in which to report them.