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Abandon the NTSB “Party System” in Aviation Accident Investigations

January 1, 1970 · FLEMING | NOLEN | JEZ, L.L.P.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the controlling authority for aviation accident site investigations. The NTSB controls the accident site. It can exclude all other agencies from the investigation. The only exception is the FBI.

The NTSB will allow the aircraft manufacturer, the aircraft subcomponent suppliers, representatives of the pilots and air traffic controllers to participate in the accident investigation. The NTSB rationalizes this on the basis that these parties have expertise otherwise not available to the NTSB.

However, the NTSB excludes the victim’s attorneys and experts. This method of investigation is called the “party system”.

Obviously, allowing potential wrongdoers to control gathering and analyzing of evidence while excluding the victim’s representatives has, at the very least, the appearance of bias and partiality. Under the party system, potential wrongdoers are allowed to do measurements and even destructive testing of evidence at their own facility. This type of testing cannot even be observed by the victim’s attorneys or experts.

It is time to reform this antiquated system to remove the potential bias and prejudice inherent in allowing only one party to participate. It is time to abandon the NTSB’s “party system” of aircraft accident investigation.