The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation completed work the week of December 4th, on a legislative proposal to reauthorize the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The last NTSB reauthorization was enacted in December 2006 and authorized NTSB appropriations through September 30, 2008 (Just to be clear, as long as a federal agency has current appropriations or other budget authority to operate, the lapse of authorization amounts does not impair its ability to continue operating).

More importantly, the reauthorization proposal, S. 2202, would add new measures to the NTSB’s organic statute and amend numerous current statutory provisions. The proposal is a curious thing; rather than a coherent organic package, it contains a grab-bag of provisions. Particularly striking is that the proposal would place significant additional administrative burdens on the NTSB itself. (Which we will address in Part II of this post).

Of particular note to readers of Plane-ly Spoken are two provisions that could have a significant impact on air carriers and passenger rail operators.

  • Addressing the Needs of Families of Individuals Involved in Accidents (section 10):
    • Amend 49 U.S.C. § 41113 and 49 U.S.C. § 41313 to require family assistance plans of domestic air carriers’ and foreign air carriers providing foreign air transportation, respectively, to address “any loss of life” rather the current “major [or in some places, “significant”] loss of life.” The provision would also require foreign air carriers’ assistance plans to include an assurance that they will treat families of nonrevenue passengers (including any victim on the ground) the same as revenue passengers.
    • Require the NTSB to provide assistance to families of passengers in any aircraft accident resulting in any loss of life “in which the [NTSB] will serve as the lead investigative agency.” [The current requirement in 49 U.S.C. § 1136 applies to aircraft accidents within the United States. This provision would cover aviation accidents occurring in foreign countries where the NTSB is the lead investigative agency under ICAO Annex 13].
    • Require the NTSB, to the maximum extent practicable, to ensure that families of individuals involved in an aviation accident described in 49 U.S.C. § 1136 or a rail passenger accident described in 49 U.S.C. § 1139 are briefed about the accident and its causes prior to any public briefing about the accident.
    • Still Images (section 4): This section is designed to increase transparency and would amend subsections (c) and (d) of 49 U.S.C. § 1114 to require the NTSB, in the course of making safety recommendations, to publicly disclose still images obtained from a video recorder provided that the agency protects from public disclosure any information that readily identifies an individual, including a decedent.

While this is an important action by the Committee, it is only one step in a long process. We will continue to advise of further developments as the NTSB reauthorization proposal moves forward in the legislative process.