When do you consider it OK to fly below mins on an instrument approach w/o having visual contact with the runway environment?

 - April 24, 2012, 4:45 PM


Michael Moulis's picture

I have been an Aviation Attorney for over 27 years. 15 years as US Government (FAA Attorney) and the remainder outside in private practice. I read your article on NTSB and its consciousness. I have been involved in many accident investigation lawsuits etc ... for years.

The NTSB has several inherent problems. Its investigations permit the manufacturer to "participate" in the investigation primarily as a result of the lack of knowledge of the NTSB investigators. As a result a party who may have civil liability is effectively controlling the investigation.

One example involved the Challenger 600 crash in Teterboro, NJ. The NTSB concluded that the cause of the accident was that the aircraft was overweight. This weight issue did not come to light until after the Challenger employees were permitted to "participate" in the investigation. Effectively the Challenger participants determined the cause of the accident.

The result ended in a criminal investigation against the operators of the aircraft. The Justice Department criminally prosecuted the operators for falsifying records concerning the weight of the aircraft. The Department of Justice demanded years in prison.

Federal Judge (Cavanaugh) after hearing from all of the experts and fact witnesses, determined the cause of the accident was the result of mechanical malfunction. His findings and holding was 180% opposite to that of the NTSB. Most of the the other Defendants were either dismissed or not prosecuted. The two remaining Defendants were given light sentences for minor crimes unrelated to the cause of the accident.

The latest debacle concerning the NTSB involved an accident that occurred in Weaverville, CA. I was part of the trail team and referred the matter to an aviation firm as a result of costs. The accident involved an S-61 Helicopter that crashed while fighting a forest fire near the California and Oregon border. Nine firefighters were killed and four were badly injured.

The NTSB originally concluded that the General Electric engine failed as a result of defective filter causing fuel contamination. When General Electric was permitted to participate in the investigation, however, the cause suddenly shifted away from the General Electric's engine to the pilots and operators of the aircraft. The NTSB quickly adopted General Electric's litigation defense asserting that the aircraft was overweight.

Despite the NTSB's new conclusion, General Electric was sued for negligence for failing to notify the FAA of the malfunctioning of its engines. At the trial, the evidence clearly established that General Electric had knowledge of the malfunctioning system as far back as 1971. The evidence also showed that soon after General Electric became involved in the accident investigation, parts related to the cause of the accident were lost or intentionally destroyed. Those parts were critical to determine whether the fuel system had malfunctioned.

Moreover, the FAA sent a team of its investigators to the operators facility to determine whether the aircraft was overweight as asserted by the NTSB and General Electric. It is clear that the jury found the NTSB and General Electric's theory of the cause of the accident was nonsense and awarded two of the victims over $70 million in damages. Once again, the NTSB's conclusion in favor of the manufacturer was found to be unadulterated nonsense.

As a former US Government attorney, I have personally written the NTSB to change its policy concerning its approach to accident investigations. All were returned by the NTSB asserting that I was possibly influencing cases where I may represent the operators or other parties in FAA enforcement actions.

Finally, I raise another case involving Senator Stevens who was killed in an aviation accident while on a fishing trip in Alaska. I am not involved in the case except that a childhood friend of mine was a survivor of the accident. He worked on Capitol Hill for years and has significant influence notwithstanding he is not an elected official. My brother and I had lunch with him and he indicated that he had been interviewed by the Chairman of the NTSB. He informed us that the NTSB Chairman was more interested in upward political mobility than the accident.

The point is that the NTSB is not qualified to perform complex aviation accident investigations. Accordingly, the NTSB invites the manufacturers to assist in determining the cause of the accident. Inherently, a manufacturers of a product or component part of an aircraft has no motivation to find its product the cause of an accident. The concern is that the only motivation of a product manufacturer is to redirect the blame away from its product.

With all due respect to the NTSB, unbiased investigations will never occur when the manufacturer of an aircraft or component part of an aircraft are permitted to "participate" in investigations that may or may not lead to legal liability as a result of the failure of the manufacturer's product.

Finally, those with political ambitions should not be involved in determining or, in this case, changing the original "cause" of an accident away from a politically powerful corporation. It does not warrant comment that the cause of the accident was changed only after General Electric, one of the world largest companies with immeasurable political influence became involved in the accident investigation.

Michael Moulis

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