National Transportation Safety Board

National Transportation Safety Board
National Transportation Safety Board
Official seal and emblem
Agency overview
Formed April 1, 1967
Preceding agency Civil Aeronautics Board
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters 490 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, D.C.
Employees 359 (2006)
Annual budget US$76.7 million (2006)
Agency executives Deborah Hersman, Chairman
Christopher A. Hart, Vice Chairman

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. In this role, the NTSB investigates and reports on aviation accidents and incidents, certain types of highway crashes, ship and marine accidents, pipeline incidents and railroad accidents.[1] When requested, the NTSB will assist the military with accident investigation.[1] The NTSB is also in charge of investigating cases of hazardous materials releases that occur during transportation. Deborah Hersman was appointed as NTSB Chairman in July 2009.[2] Christopher A. Hart was designated Vice Chairman on August 18, 2009 for a two-year term. The agency is based in Washington, D.C. It has nine regional offices around the country and runs a training center in Ashburn, Virginia.



The NTSB was established in 1967 as the federal government's primary accident investigation agency for all modes of transportation – aviation, highway, rail, marine and pipeline. The core of the new agency was composed of the Civil Aeronautics Board's Bureau of Safety (The CAB retained its economic regulation of the airline industry until it was closed on December 31, 1984 due to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978). Originally established with strong ties to the Department of Transportation, these ties were later severed under the Independent Safety Board Act of 1975. The organization receives its authority from Chapter 11, Title 49 of the United States Code.[3] It has investigated over 140,000 aviation incidents since its establishment.


The board has five members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for five year terms, one of whom is nominated the Chairman by the President and then approved by the Senate for a fixed 2-year term. Another member is designated as vice chairman and becomes acting chairman when there is no formal chairman.[4]

No more than three of the five members can be from the same political party.[5]

Organization within the Board is composed of separate sub-offices for highway safety, maritime safety, aviation safety, railroad, pipeline, and hazardous materials investigations, research and engineering, communications, and administrative law judges. These sub-offices report to the Office of the Managing Director.[citation needed]


The NTSB is normally the lead organization in the investigation of a transportation accident within its sphere. However, this power can be surrendered to other organizations if the Attorney General declares the case to be linked to an intentional criminal act, although the NTSB would still provide technical support in such investigations. This occurred during the investigation of the September 11, 2001, attacks when the Department of Justice took over the investigation.[6]

An investigation of a major accident within the United States typically starts with the creation of a "go team", composed of specialists in fields relating to the occurrence. This is followed by the designation of other organizations or corporations as parties to the investigation. The Board may then choose to hold public hearings on the issue. Ultimately, it will publish a final report and may issue safety recommendations. The Board has no legal authority to implement, or impose, its recommendations. That burden falls upon regulators at either the federal or state level or individual transportation companies.[citation needed]

The NTSB has primacy in investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States (The Federal Aviation Administration is always a party to these investigations, but the NTSB is the investigating agency). For certain accidents, due to resource limitations, the Board will ask the FAA to collect the factual information at the scene of the accident; the NTSB bases its report on that information.

The NTSB may assist in incident or accident investigations occurring outside the United States under certain circumstances. These may include:

  • accidents or incidents involving American-registered or American-owned aircraft (other than an aircraft operated by the Armed Forces or by an intelligence agency of the United States) or aircraft with U.S. manufactured components in foreign air space.

The NTSB will also on occasion provide technical and other advice to transportation investigative boards in countries that do not have the equipment or specialized technicians available to undertake all aspects of a complex investigation.[citation needed]

The NTSB's authority to investigate other transportation accidents varies by mode. For example, it investigates highway accidents "in cooperation with the States." For marine investigations, jurisdiction between the NTSB and he Coast Guard is prescribed in a detailed Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. For those railroad and pipeline accidents it chooses to investigate, it has primacy.

A little-known responsibility of the NTSB is that it serves as a court of appeals for airmen, mechanics, certificated aviation-related companies and mariners who have their licenses suspended or revoked by the federal government. The Board's determinations may be appealed to the federal court system by the losing party, whether it is the individual or company, on the one hand, or the FAA or the Coast Guard, on the other.

The Safety Board maintains a training academy in Ashburn, Virginia, where it conducts courses for its employees and professionals in other government agencies, foreign governments or private companies, in areas such as general accident investigation, specific elements of investigations like survival factors or human performance, or related matters like family affairs or media relations. The facility houses for training purposes the reconstruction of more than 90 feet of the TWA flight 800 Boeing 747, which was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean after it crashed on July 17, 1996 following a fuel tank explosion.


The Board's most important product is the safety recommendation. The NTSB has issued about 13,000 safety recommendations in its history, the vast majority of which have been adopted in whole or in part by the entities to which they were directed.

Among transportation safety improvements brought about or inspired by NTSB recommendations:

AVIATION: Mid-air collision avoidance technology, ground proximity warning systems, smoke detectors in lavatories, floor level escape lighting and fuel tank inerting.

HIGHWAY: Graduated drivers license laws for young drivers, age-21 drinking laws, smart airbag technology, rear high-mounted brake lights, commercial drivers licenses, improved school bus construction standards.

RAIL: Positive train control (anti-collision technology), improved emergency exits for passenger rail cars, shelf-couplers for hazardous material rail cars.

MARINE: Recreational boating safety, improved fire safety on cruise ships, lifesaving devices on fishing vessels.

PIPELINE: Excavation damage protection, pipe corrosion protection, remote shutoff valves.

MULTI-MODAL: Alcohol and drug testing in all modes of transportation.

Since 1990, the NTSB has maintained a Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, in which it highlights those recommendations that would provide the most significant -- and sometimes immediate -- benefit to the traveling public. The Board conducts a press conference every year to announce changes to that list.

Significant investigations conducted by the NTSB in all modes of transportation in recent years include the collapse of the I-35 highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the collision between two transit trains in Washington, D.C.; the pipeline explosion that destroyed much of a neighborhood in San Bruno, California; the sinking of an amphibious vessel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, New York.

In addition, the NTSB has assisted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in its investigations of both the Challenger and the Columbia space shuttle disasters, assisted the Department of Justice during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack investigations, and assisted the U.S. military in its investigation of the aircraft that crashed in the former Yugoslavia that took the lives of more than 30 Americans, including Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

Other countries

See also

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External links

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