NTSB Reaches Out to Industry on Accident Communications

 - March 15, 2018, 11:51 AM

The NTSB is encouraging operators to reach out to the Safety Board to help with communications in the aftermath of a major accident. The Safety Board hosts annual two-day seminars, the next scheduled for October 25 and 26 at its training academy in Ashburn, Virginia, to provide guidance to industry groups on steps to take following a major accident. Peter Knudson, a public affairs officer for the organization, provided an outline to attendees of the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s 2018 Safety Symposium on Tuesday, advising that the agency also is willing to visit operators to provide a one-day seminar.

Knudson warned that, to be a party to an accident investigation, participants must follow strict guidelines, as to what information can and can’t be revealed publicly. In particular, details of an investigation are most likely off limits, he said, but added an operation can provide some information surrounding safety steps they might be taking in the aftermath. He noted the NTSB has, in the past, removed parties from an investigation, pointing to an instance in 2014 when it revoked the party status of both the Independent Pilots Association and UPS Airlines from an UPS A300-600 crash investigation after the groups released opposing statements about an aspect of the investigation.

At the same time, though, Knudson stressed that the NTSB believes it needs to be as transparent as possible with the release of as much information as possible as long as it doesn’t compromise the investigation. This is important, he said, because if the agency doesn’t release the information, someone else will, and that could lead to misinterpretation or a skewed presentation of the facts. “The NTSB is the sole disseminator of accident information,” he said, adding this provides a presentation with “one single voice.”

Knudson also provided an overview of how communications have changed, where the NTSB now Tweets regularly to provide timely information. And, with an instant news reporting cycle, the Board often learns of accidents immediately through social media and news outlets—well before it is officially notified of an accident. While he did not delve into accident-investigation techniques, Knudson did say the agency is now widely using drones to survey accident scenes.

On the public relations front, Knudson noted the pushback the agency received after the movie “Sully” was released. Sully was based on the Jan. 15, 2009, USAirways emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River. Pointing out that the movie stemmed from an event that lasted three-and-a-half minutes, he conceded someone had to become the antagonist—and in this case it was the NTSB. Following the release, Knudson said the agency received calls from pilots around the country asking how the NTSB could treat the captain of that USAirways flight, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, in such a manner.

Knudson then played a clip from an actual hearing from the NTSB investigation in which now-chairman Robert Sumwalt was praising Sullenberger’s reaction during the event.