Robert L. Sumwalt was sworn in as the 37th Member of the National Transportation Safety Board in August 2006, whereupon President George W. Bush designated him as Vice Chairman of the Board for a two-year term. In November 2011, President Barack Obama reappointed Member Sumwalt to an additional five year term. His term of office as a Board Member will run until December 31, 2016.
Since joining the Board, Robert has been a fierce advocate for improving safety in all modes of transportation, including teen driver safety, impaired driving, distractions in transportation, and several rail safety initiatives.
Prior to coming to the Board, Mr. Sumwalt was a pilot for 32 years, including 24 years as an airline pilot with Piedmont Airlines and then US Airways. After his airline career he joined SCANA, a Fortune 500 energy company, where he managed their corporate aviation department. He logged over 14,000 flight hours and earned type ratings in five aircraft.
Mr. Sumwalt worked on special assignment to the US Airways Flight Safety Department from 1997 to 2004, where he was involved in the development of numerous airline safety programs, and he served on the US Airways Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) Monitoring Team.
Mr. Sumwalt served as an air safety representative for Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) for 17 years and he chaired ALPA's Human Factors and Training Group. He was a co-founder of that organization's Critical Incident Response Program, which provides guidance to airline personnel involved in traumatic events such as accidents.
From 1991 to 1999, Mr. Sumwalt conducted aviation safety research as a consultant to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, studying various issues including flight crew performance.
Mr. Sumwalt co-authored a book on aircraft accidents and he wrote chapters pertaining to aircraft accident investigation in two books. He has written extensively on aviation safety matters, having published over 90 articles and papers.
In 2003, Mr. Sumwalt joined the faculty of the University of Southern California's Aviation Safety and Security Program, where he was the primary human factors instructor.
In recognition of his contributions to the aviation industry, Mr. Sumwalt received the Flight Safety Foundation's Laura Taber Barbour Award in 2003 and ALPA's Air Safety Award in 2005. He is a 2009 inductee into the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of South Carolina.
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Member Sumwalt has served as the Member on-scene for the following NTSB accident investigations:
- March 2014 - Gas pipeline explosion in East Harlem, New York, which destroyed two apartment buildings and claimed several lives.
- December 2013 - Collision of two BNSF freight trains resulting in explosion and fire of crude oil in Casselton, North Dakota
August 2013 - crash of a UPS Airbus A300-600 cargo jet on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama
May 2013 - highway grade crossing accident involving a trash truck and a CSX freight train in Rosedale, Maryland
May 2013 - collision of a Union Pacific freight train and a BNSF freight train, leading to collapse of highway bridge, near Chaffee, Missouri
February 2013 - crash of Hawker Beechcraft Premier 1A at Thompson, Georgia, that claimed five lives
January 2013 - allision of Passenger Ferry Seastreak Wallstreet with Pier 11 at Lower Manhattan, New York City
December 2012 - rupture and explosion of a natural gas pipeline in Sissonville, West Virginia
April, 2011 - Southwest Airlines B737-300 rapid decompression and emergency landing due to fuselage crack in Yuma, Arizona
September, 2010 - crash of a Freightliner Mid-Size tour bus on Interstate 270 in Bethesda, Maryland
July, 2010 - collision involving a barge and an amphibious passenger vessel in the Delaware River, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May, 2010 - collision between the Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi and the St. George terminal pier in Staten Island, New York
- September, 2009 - crash of an emergency medical services helicopter that claimed three lives in Georgetown, South Carolina;
June, 2009 - derailment of a CN train which resulted in the explosion and burning of several ethanol tank cars at a grade crossing in Rockford, Illinois
December, 2008 - Continental Airlines flight 1404, a Boeing 737-500 that departed a runway during takeoff roll at the Denver International Airport, and caught fire
November, 2007 - collision between an Amtrak passenger train and a standing Norfolk Southern freight train in Chicago, Illinois
November, 2007 - rupture and explosion of a liquid propane pipeline in Carmichael, Mississippi
July, 2007 - crash of a twin-engine Cessna 310R airplane that impacted homes in a residential area in Sanford, Florida
- October, 2006 - derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.
- In addition, Sumwalt accompanied the NTSB's go-team to Lexington, Kentucky for the
August 27, 2006, involving Comair flight 5191.
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Since joining the Board, Member Sumwalt has served as the Chairman of the Board of Inquiry for the following NTSB public hearings and forums:
- May 2011 - Truck and Bus Safety: A Decade of Progress
- October 2010 – Fishing Vessel Safety Forum
- February 2010 - collision of two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains near Fort Totten Station, Washington, DC, on June 22, 2009;
- June 2009 - landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549, Airbus A320, N106US, in the Hudson River, near Weehawken, New Jersey, on January 15, 2009;
- February 2009 - safety of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operations.