Former FAA chief explains FAA and NTSB relationship

Mar 7, 2013

Federal safety investigators so far have been unable to pinpoint the root cause of a 787 Dreamliner battery fire. At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration is weighing whether to let Boeing move ahead with tests of a new battery design. Does the FAA have to wait for the safety investigation to finish? The short answer is, no.

It’s easy to get lost in this alphabet soup of acronyms – FAA, NTSB. The FAA is the one that decides whether planes fly. They’re the regulator – they set the rules.

The National Transportation Safety Board – they’re the investigators. They come in after an accident to figure out what happened. They can also examine how the FAA operates and recommend changes.

Jane Garvey was administrator of the FAA from 1997 to 2002. She says the FAA takes all NTSB recommendations seriously, but doesn’t always follow them.  

"We all have the same goals – which is the highest levels of safety and protecting safety, but it really is up to the FAA ultimately to accept or modify or to change or to implement the recommendations of the NTSB or to disagree," Garvey said.

The original Dreamliner battery was burned so badly, it may be hard to ever conclusively say what happened. Investigators say they haven’t given up.

Boeing, in the meantime, has devised a fix. And even without a final report from safety investigators, the FAA is likely to move ahead with test flights to determine whether the new battery design is safe.