The National Transportation Safety Board has revoked the party status of both the Independent Pilots Association and UPS Airlines from its ongoing investigation of UPS Flight 1354, an A300-600 air cargo flight that crashed on approach to Birmingham, Ala., last August.
The NTSB took the action after IPA and UPS violated the terms of the party agreement that each had signed at the start of the investigation. In letters to each organization, the NTSB wrote that both IPA and UPS took actions prejudicial to the investigation by publicly commenting on and providing their own analysis of the investigation prior to the NTSB's public meeting to determine the probable cause of the accident.
"NTSB investigations depend heavily upon technical input from the accident parties," said Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. "If one party disseminates information about the accident, it may reflect that party's bias. This puts the other parties at a disadvantage and makes them less willing to engage in the process, which can undercut the entire investigation."
Without first consulting with the NTSB, the IPA issued a press release on August 13 providing its own analysis of the accident, "UPS Pilots Call for End of Part 117 Carve-Out on Anniversary of Fatigue Crash," which is explicitly prohibited in the party agreement. UPS, also without first consulting with the NTSB, posted comments on a website responding to the IPA press release in which it also provided its own analysis.
"It doesn't matter who started it," said Hart. "Neither action is acceptable."
For more than 40 years, the NTSB has had the sole responsibility for disseminating aviation accident investigation-related information from the time of the accident's occurrence all the way through to the end of its investigation. This practice was put in place in order to prevent any party member from unfairly influencing the public perception of the investigative findings.
The NTSB may grant "party status" to those organizations that are able to provide technical assistance in an investigation. As a condition to being granted this status, parties sign an agreement that explicitly prohibits them from releasing investigative information to the media or to comment or analyze investigative findings without prior consultation with the NTSB. Once the investigation is completed, all such restrictions are lifted.
The NTSB accident report will note that IPA and UPS were removed as parties because each violated the party agreement.
The letters outlining the reasons the NTSB revoked party status and the NTSB Party Agreement are available below: